Medical Marijuana at Work

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In our modern world, cannabis consumption is gaining more and more acceptance basically every day. Be it in order to experience the mind-altering effects of THC or just to spice up one of your favorite dishes with nutritious hemp seeds, cultures all over the globe are gradually re-introducing the cannabis plant into everyday life.

Related: How long does THC stay in your system?

And with acceptance comes normalisation, which means that an increasing number of people will consume THC containing cannabis products on a regular basis. This, however, can have an impact on different areas of your life, one of which could be your job. That’s why it is important to know how THC consumption can affect your work, what your rights as a cannabis consuming employee are and how employers can deal with the ever growing movement of cannabis legalisation.


The legal situation of cannabis at work

As you might have already guessed: it’s complicated. Regardless of whether a country legalised recreational or medical cannabis, it is always up to the company in question to allow or forbid their workers to be under the influence of cannabis at work, just as it is the case with alcohol. What is more, in many states of the U.S. the employer can also decide if personnel have to undergo drug tests before starting their job or during their employment.

Whereas in most European countries corporate drug tests are generally not allowed since medical examinations are regarded as an invasion of privacy. Although exceptions can be made and the employing company may force its workers to undergo drug screenings if both of these cases are true:

a.) there is a reasonable suspicion


b.) the employee has to perform tasks that demand a high level of security, such as operating heavy machines, working in passenger traffic etc.

So the bad news is: Even if your state or country allows recreational marijuana, having a clear understanding of the drug policy of the company you work for is essential in regard to the safety of your job.

The same goes for medicinal cannabis. You may own a legal prescription of fully licensed medical cannabis, but this might not protect you from being fired for the use of it.

In the past, numerous incidents occurred in which employees lost their jobs, often to their own surprise, when their employers found out that the person was using prescribed cannabis for medical treatment.

One of such examples is the case of Carol Whitmire. The then 61-year-old woman got fired after being tested positively on the drug when she had an accident at work and was sent to the hospital. Even though Whitmire, with the help of her medical marijuana card, was able to prove that she legally uses cannabis and does so purely for medical purposes, that didn’t sway her superiors. She still ended up being unemployed for months and both she and Walmart settled for an undisclosed amount after Whitmire sued for wrongful termination.

This goes to show that legal approval is not equivalent to social tolerance, especially in the area of work and employment. One reason for this is the fact that certified and licensed cannabis is still a novelty to many people. It takes time to tear down the barriers of demonisation and confusion that have been built up over the last decades.

So no matter what form of cannabis you are using, being fully aware of your employer’s drug policy is indispensable. You should, therefore, consider informing your superiors in case your physician gave you a prescription for medical marijuana. What is more, many companies work together with their own doctor who regularly checks the workers’ overall health condition.

Related: The Difference between Medical and Recreational Marijuana

Before all else, and if there is one, talk to that doctor about your prescription. He will have a good idea about what your employer’s view on the matter is. When the doctor is giving you the green light and you are still feeling unsure about letting your employer know, you can try to work together with him by releasing the doctor from the medical confidentiality. This authorizes him to speak to your superiors and at the same time the message is delivered by a respected professional.

A serious threat to the workplace of THC consuming employees is the public’s non-differentiation between a person consuming THC for its mind altering effects, thus leaving them impaired and unfit for work, and finding traces of THC in a person’s blood, that are not only miniscule but are also the mere side effect of his medical treatment.

The chemical occurrence of THC in a human’s system does not automatically mean that the person ever got high in his or her life. He or she might just be a CBD patient who uses cannabinoids to fight an inflammatory disease, or some other illness. This is a tenacious and widely spread misunderstanding which leads to prejudices that ultimately cause the demise of many people such as Carol Whitmire.


The impact of cannabis on your performance

Chronic and uninhibited consumption of THC can have a serious impact on your state of mind as well as your physical fitness. Thus, it can detrimentally influence your performance at work, which makes it understandable that employers are cautious about who works for them and if their employees consume any substances.

Medical research suggests that cannabis consumption is likely to increase your reaction time. In addition, it can cause feelings of anxiety or panic.

A person’s physical response time can not only be impaired in the case of an ongoing intoxication from cannabinoids but also in the case of non-intoxicated individuals that frequently use marijuana from a young age.

Other areas such as motor function are also subject to impairment, even in the case of experienced users using common social doses.

Among other things, it depends on which professional field you’re working in to determine whether using THC is beneficial or negative to your performance. If you are facing creative challenges and have to deal with tasks that demand some form of inspiration, THC may help you overcome certain obstacles if applied purposefully. Said creative challenges can arise in many areas, such as marketing, design, writing but other fields as well, such as coding and mathematics.

Some of the most ingenious and successful minds stated to have used marijuana for the intention of altering their minds to gain a new perspective. Two examples of this are Bill Gates and Richard Branson.


What to do as an employer?

Anyone who runs a business knows that the staff have to be competent and thorough at their workplace in order for the company to function and survive. Furthermore, employees working with heavy machines or in otherwise dangerous environments have to stay on top of their game at all times. After all, health is anybody’s biggest asset and therefore safety must come first. Communicating your company’s drug policy to your personnel in a clear and concise manner is crucial, regardless of which substances are allowed in the region the company operates in.

But as the case of Carol Whitmire shows, knowing the difference between drug abuse and adequate medical care is of substantial value, too. It might save you from unwanted lawsuits and pays testimony to a modern perception of personnel leadership. Just because a person’s medication leaves chemical traces of something that other people get high on does not automatically mean that this person will be intoxicated at work.

On top of that, there’s an even more liberal approach that some employers can take if their employees have access to fully legalised recreational cannabis, and if their job takes place in a safe environment: Set specific days on which the consumption of cannabis is allowed at the workplace.

Many medium-sized and big corporations have similar arrangements when it comes to things like their dress code, where workers can come into work dressed casually on one day of the week. And there are various companies that have already pioneered this concept, most of them being related to or directly working in the cannabis business.

Some of these employers even go so far as to allow their employees to take breaks for the consumption of cannabis during their regular working time, such as the lifestyle company Civilized.

Specifically in businesses thriving on the creativity of their employees, giving the staff the opportunity to see new angles on some of their tasks for two or three hours on one day of the month will barely cost you any quality workforce, especially on Friday afternoons. At the same time, such an offer will most likely boost the management’s popularity among the workers. Not to forget the potential for breakthrough moments that is created or simply the possibility for your personnel to have a little fun.

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