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Legalizing Marijuana Hasn’t Changed Employers' Objections

Legalizing Marijuana Hasn’t Changed Employers' Objections
Credit: Nikita Starichenko/Shutterstock

Just because many states are relaxing their marijuana laws doesn't mean employers are loosening their policies about its use in the workplace.

Despite the legalization of marijuana for either recreational or medical use in 23 states and the District of Columbia, 82 percent of businesses in those locations have a zero-tolerance policy for marijuana use by employees while they're working, according to a new study from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The research found that, in states where marijuana is legalized, 11 percent of employers make exceptions for medical use; however, some restrictions might apply. Just 2 percent of the organizations surveyed allow both recreational and medical use in the workplace.

"While marijuana use is legal in some states, it remains illegal under federal law," Evren Esen, SHRM's director of survey programs, said in a statement. "Substance use, disciplinary and hiring policies are all influenced by employers' limited tolerance of marijuana use."

In locations where recreational and medical marijuana use is now legal, 29 percent of organizations have modified their substance-use policy since legalization, the study found. Of those employers, 37 percent now have a more restrictive policy in the disciplinary action they take for marijuana use, with just 12 percent having more relaxed rules. [American Workers Increasingly Fail Drug Tests ]

"HR professionals in states where marijuana is legal for both recreational and medical use tended to have stricter policies in place than those where only medical marijuana is legal," Esen said.

Overall, 94 percent of all organizations have a formal, written substance-abuse policy. The research revealed that more than one-third of human resources professionals have had employees at their organizations violate marijuana-use policies in the past year, with 4 percent of organizations having had more than 10 violations during that time.

In many cases, these violations are taken quite seriously. The study shows that termination was the most frequent action taken for first-time marijuana-use-policy violators.

Other disciplinary actions taken against first-time offenders include requiring violators to complete a drug therapy or counseling program and giving out both written and verbal warnings. Only 2 percent of organizations take no action at all.

Those looking for work in states where recreational marijuana is legal shouldn't think that employers are going to look past drug use when they are making hiring decisions. In states where recreational use is legal, 44 percent of those surveyed said they do not hire recreational users.

The study was based on surveys of 623 randomly selected HR professionals in 19 states where medical marijuana is legal and four states and the District of Columbia, where both medical and recreational use are legal.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.