What Vermont's new marijuana law means for employers
Beginning in July, Vermont will allow its citizenry to possess and cultivate limited amounts of recreational marijuana, becoming the ninth state to permit non-medicinal use of the drug for adults age 21 and older. Although the law is new, the ability for Vermont employers to enact policies against marijuana use in the workplace has not changed.
The law goes into effect July 1, and will let Vermont residents grow two mature and four immature marijuana plants without criminal penalty. Additionally, citizens may possess up to one ounce of marijuana, though unlike other states that have legalized recreational cannabis, Vermont still prohibits retail sales of the drug.
Vermont is the first state to decriminalize marijuana by an act of lawmakers. In the other U.S. regions to end cannabis prohibition - Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C - voters approved those laws through ballot initiatives.
While the Vermont legislation sanctions a limited amount of marijuana possession and production statewide, employers can still discipline on-site drug use at their discretion. Vermont's law specifically states that:
* Employers are not required to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, sale, or growing of marijuana in the workplace.
* Employers are not barred from prohibiting or otherwise regulating the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, sale, or growing of marijuana on their premises.
* Employers are not barred from adopting a policy that prohibits the use of marijuana in the workplace.
* A cause of action is not created against an employer that discharges an employee for violating a policy that restricts or prohibits the use of marijuana by employees.
Even with these provisions, employers should keep apprised of Vermont's rules on drug testing. For example, though state employers may not conduct random drug tests, pre-employment screens are permitted based on reasonable suspicion.
Human resources departments should also note that Vermont's new law addresses only recreational cannabis, considering the state already has a medical marijuana law in place. The state's medicinal law currently doesn't require engagement of cannabis cardholders on a potential reasonable accommodation, but employers should at least consider the possibility as attitudes toward marijuana use continue to evolve.
Employers never have to accommodate intoxication on the job, but state laws protecting workers based on medical marijuana cardholder status can make enforcement of workplace rules difficult. Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island each provide employment protections for medicinal cannabis users.
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