On November 8, 2016, California voted to legalize recreational marijuana under state law, for those aged 21 years or older. Since that time, companies have been scrambling to figure out what it all means for them in terms of their employment drug screening policies.

Medical marijuana has been the norm in California since 1996, when the state set a national precedent by legalizing it. But it was Colorado and Washington that first opened the door to making the use and possession of recreational cannabis legal, when they both did just that back in 2012.

Since that time, six other states – including California – have followed suit and legalized recreational marijuana, to varying degrees and with various restrictions. The upshot of Proposition 64 for employers is that it’s now legal for the individuals you hire to grow, possess, and use marijuana for nonmedical purposes. But does that mean your business is expected to turn a blind eye to cannabis use in the workplace?

How the YES Vote Affects Your Business

What exactly does the YES vote mean for California companies. Can you continue to test new hires for cannabis, and run drug screens in response to work-related accidents? Or do we all simply have to resign ourselves to workplace environments that include a pot plant in every cubicle?

The law, it seems, is firmly on the side of the employer when it comes to protecting your business with employment regulations that govern the use of recreational marijuana. In fact, the Prop 64 initiative makes a clear case for several areas where on-the-job activities could be affected by marijuana use, including the following:

  • it remains unlawful to operate a car or other vehicle used for transportation while impaired by marijuana,
  • the smoking of marijuana is NOT permitted in public in most circumstances – and certainly not in locations where smoking tobacco is prohibited, and most importantly
  • legislation allows public and private employers to enact and enforce workplace policies pertaining to marijuana

In other words, the rights of California’s employers to maintain a drug-free place of business won’t be affected by Proposition 64.

  • Can you continue to use pre-employment drug tests – and take their results into account when screening prospective new hires? Yes.
  • Can you terminate an employee who violates your company’s drug policy for marijuana use? Yes.
  • Can you outright prohibit the use or possession of marijuana in your workplace environment? Yes.

Naturally it’s recommended that your business seek professional legal advice to clarify these statements. But in general, so long as your company policy on cannabis use and possession at work is well-documented, and made clear to employees, you’re under no obligation to accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale, or growth of marijuana in the workplace.

Protecting your business – and the people who trust you to provide them with a safe, drug-free work space – has always been important. That hasn’t changed with the passing of Proposition 64, and it’s unlikely to change in the future. Taking advantage of background checks, and pre-employment screening measures that include drug testing, remain one of the most effective ways to manage organizational risk and make the best possible hiring decisions for your business.

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