Medical Marijuana: How Does It Affect the Workplace?
April Arrasate is founder and chief operating officer of CuraLeaf, a medical marijuana facility in Connecticut. She will moderated a discussion on medical marijuana in the workplace at the 2015 CT Business Expo last week. We did a Q&A with her in advance of the forum to get her input on the topic.
Recruiter.com: You are among the pioneers of medical marijuana in CT, with CuraLeaf being one of the first four companies permitted to dispense it. You are going to moderate a seminar on medical marijuana in the workplace. What do you think some of the topics of discussion will be?
April Arrasate: I think people will be interested in learning about the present state of cannabis. Most people that I talk to don’t understand how far the science and the manufacture of cannabis has come since the days of joints and bongs. I like to relay the science, the various forms of administration available that don’t involve smoking, and the evidence supporting the true medical value of the plant. I also think people are interested in the business itself and how it operates here in the state of Connecticut.
We are an extremely regulated industry, and I think people are surprised to hear how thorough the state has been in ensuring responsible production and use of this medicine. Finally, I will be presenting with several other attorneys who will discuss employer concerns relating to the new program.
In short, employers are caught between not wanting to discriminate against patients who need the medicine and not wanting to face liability for employing a party who fails a drug test. I try to remind everyone that we do not have to reinvent the wheel here. CT has rescheduled Marijuana to Schedule II, meaning it should be handled no differently than any other Schedule II drug.
RC: Do you know of any resources companies can use to formulate medical marijuana policies in the workplace?
AA: Again, it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. The workplace policy can mimic any other Schedule II drug policy. For example, someone may have an opiate prescription — but you would not expect that person to be impaired from opiate use at work. The problem with cannabis is that it is stored in the fatty tissue, so that a person can test positive for cannabis if they consumed it the night before, or even up to a month ago! The test should always be impairment. If a party is impaired, that is the true test.
RC: According to an Inc. article, only three states require businesses to accommodate medical marijuana use in the workplace. What are your thoughts on this issue? Should businesses be required to accommodate medical marijuana use in the workplace? It seems as if it is restrictive not to allow employees to take medicine at work.
AA: Again, I look to impairment. There are many standard FDA-approved medications that cause drowsiness, impairment, etc. One must look at the totality of the circumstances, including the nature of the job being performed and the severity of the patient’s discomfort without the use of the medicine.
I think it is important to reassert that the evaluation should be no different than any other Schedule II drug. That being said, the CT statute does afford some protection to Employees in 21a-408(p), which states the following: “No employer may refuse to hire a person or may discharge, penalize, or threaten an employee solely on the basis of such person’s or employee’s status as a qualifying patient or primary caregiver under sections 21a-408 to 21a-408n, inclusive. Nothing in this subdivision shall restrict an employer’s ability to prohibit the use of intoxicating substances during work hours or restrict an employer’s ability to discipline an employee for being under the influence of intoxicating substances during work hours.”
RC: Here’s a concern: how do you take a pre-hire drug test if you are taking medical marijuana? Isn’t it possible disclosing your medical condition will jeopardize your hiring? Doesn’t taking a pre-hire drug test involve disclosing medical information that could cause an employer not to hire you?
AA: These are exactly the concerns and the real-life issues facing patients today. We will be going through a real life scenario of a patient facing exactly this issue at the CT Business Expo.
RC: What rights, if any, do employers have not to allow medical marijuana in the workplace?
AA: This is a tricky line to walk for employers as I alluded to above. Walking the line between not discriminating or running afoul of the CT mandate while ensuring that they are not opening themselves up to liability will be a topic covered at the Expo.
RC: Along those lines, what are some common misconceptions people might have about medical marijuana?
AA: Most often, people simply don’t realize how far the science and industry has advanced since the time of tie-dye t-shirts and joints. At Curaleaf, we produce standardized doses of cannabinoids derived from cannabis cultivated using organic growing practices in an extremely controlled environment. The medicine is tested not only for potency, but also for any contaminates, and it is then formulated into various forms of administration, including those familiar to patients which do not involve smoking.
Also noteworthy is that people just don’t even know the program exists, and if they do, they are unaware of how medically focused it is. For example, in CT, all dispensaries are operated by licensed pharmacists so that patients are receiving dosing advice from professionals.