Jul 02 2021

Legalization of Marijuana Creates Issues for Employers

By Attorney Michael Kopsick / In Litigation

On June 22, 2021, Governor Lamont signed into law a bill legalizing recreational marijuana in the state of Connecticut. This law creates a whole new set of rules for employers, most of which will not go into effect until July 1, 2022.

In essence, the law creates one set of rules for employers whose business operations and employees are exempt (i.e., schools, judicial system, certain manufacturers, transportation industry, etc.) and other rules for everyone else. 

Given the sheer size of the bill (the bill SUMMARY is nearly 200 pages), much is yet to be clear. However, what is certain is that employers will not be required to make accommodations for employees to perform his or her job duties while under the influence or allow employees to process, use, or consume marijuana/cannabis while working (caution: the exception for possession of medical marijuana remains in place). Employers can (and should) implement a written policy in this regard and must make it available to all employees and applicants at the time any offer of employment is extended. Employers will not be able to discriminate against someone for their status as a qualifying patient using medical marijuana as the new bill bars an employer from treating the employee differently for use of cannabis products before employment (unless it would put the employer in violation of a federal contract or result in the forfeiture of federal funding). 

Like alcohol use on the job, an employer can still take employment action based on reasonable suspicion of marijuana/cannabis use on the job or if the employee manifests specific symptoms of drug impairment, but again, none of this applies to exempt employees.

Applicants cannot be turned down for testing positive for marijuana before starting the job. 

Lastly, the strangest thing about the new law is its inclusion of independent contractors in the definition of employee.

This is an issue that is likely to cause misinterpretation, confusion, and litigation.
Most of us had anticipated the legalization of marijuana for some time now, but the new law presents many challenges to employers and those who advise them. We’ll keep you updated as the law evolves…


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