Will California Protect Off-Work Medical Marijuana Use?

marijuana employment cannabis
This might not be true in California anymore.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia have laws that legalize marijuana for adult recreational use and/or medical use. Many of those states also protect employees’ off-work use of medical marijuana. However, some of those states, including California, Oregon and Washington, have statutes or case law allowing employers to terminate employees for off-work use of marijuana– even employees legally using it under the state’s medical marijuana laws. Oregon recently tried to pass legislation protecting off-work use of marijuana, but the bill failed to gain traction and fizzled at the committee level. California is the latest state to attempt to pass legislation to protect employee’s off-work use of medical marijuana. Let’s hope it happens!

California Assembly Bill 2069 (AB 2069), introduced last week, proposes to protect medical marijuana patients’ off-work use of marijuana. AB 2069 would amend California’s anti-discrimination statute by expanding the list of protected classes to include medical marijuana patients. This means that if an employer discovered that an employee or potential employee was a medical marijuana patient, or that the employee had tested positive for marijuana, it would be illegal for the employer to:

“refuse to hire or refuse to select the person for a training program leading to employment, or to bar or to discharge the person from employment or from a training program leading to employment or to bar or to discharge the person from employment or from a training program leading to employment or to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment”.

California’s proposed bill is similar to other states that have successfully passed legislation to protect off-work use. AB 2069 also includes an important provision to protect employers who would lose money or licensing related benefits under federal law or regulations. Because marijuana remains a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, companies that contract with the federal government must ensure a drug-free workplace. Under the proposed bill, such companies would not violate AB 2069 for terminating employee’s off-work marijuana use. This important safe harbor makes it seem more likely the bill will pass.

Note that AB 2069 would not provide protections for employees who use medical marijuana on the premises, or employees who are intoxicated while working, if company policy prohibits these things. Regardless of whether AB 2069 becomes law, it is important to be clear with your employees when it is acceptable to use marijuana and when it is not. Those rules, along with other employment-related requirements, must be spelled out in the cannabis business’s employee handbook.

Marijuana will continue to be legalized across the country in 2018. California has been on forefront of medical marijuana policy since Proposition 215 over 20 years ago, so it’s fitting that the Golden State may be next to protect off-work medical marijuana use by patient employees. AB 2069 is to be heard in committee next month, and we expect this bill to get some traction. Make sure to write your representative. And if you want to track this bill going forward, go here.

In the meantime, for more on employees and off-duty cannabis use, check out the following posts by our attorneys: