VANDALIA — While Ohio’s medical marijuana law is supposed to be fully operational on Sept. 8, there won’t be any of the controversial drug sold this week. A myriad of state regulations, a lack of inspections of cultivation, and other factors have the law, now two years old, plodding along.
That doesn’t mean that employers shouldn’t be thinking about the ramifications of medical marijuana.
Members of the Vandalia-Butler Chamber of Commerce gathered at the Vandalia library late last month to consider the effects of medical pot on both their business and employees.
Gerry McDonald, an attorney with Pickrel, Schaeffer, and Ebeling also serves as the City Attorney for Vandalia and Huber Heights. He told those in attendance that medical marijuana opens up many gray areas, the least of them being that under federal law, marijuana is still an illegal drug.
That doesn’t mean patients who use medical marijuana should fear prosecution – the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment included in the $1.3 trillion federal spending bill in March prohibits Department of Justice funds from enforcement on medical marijuana.
“The Attorney General recently rescinded a memo that instructed federal prosecutors not to pursue cases regardless of their compliance with state laws,” said McDonald.
That means banks who deal with medical marijuana businesses could be taking on a risky customer.
A patient taking his or her medical marijuana across state lines – such as Ohio to Kentucky for employment – will also place themselves at jeopardy both for transporting it across state lines and because it won’t be legal in Kentucky.
The legal concerns for employers are significant as well.
Tina Taylor and Jamie Bierman of Cincinnati-based HR Elements explained that the most important thing an employer can do is have a written policy.
“Employers basically have three stances they can take on medical marijuana,” said Bierman. “They can maintain a zero tolerance drug environment; they can be drug free with an exception for medical marijuana; or they can make a medical marijuana allowance for all workers. Be sure to communicate those policies to your employees.”
Medical marijuana can only be recommended for treatment of certain medical conditions which include AIDS, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Alzheimer’s, cancer, epilepsy and other seizure disorders, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and others.
Bierman said employers are not required to allow medical marijuana use. It can be prohibited and employers can discipline workers under the influence or refuse to hire them based on a pre-hire drug screening. She noted however, that some employers have stopped testing for marijuana in today’s tight labor market.
“They key is to have a policy,” she said.
McDonald said users of medical marijuana may not necessarily get a high from the drug. Tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, is what gets a person high when they use marijuana. Cannabidiol (CBD) can often have the same effects as THC without getting a person high. Some forms of medical marijuana will remove the THC while leaving the CBD.
“It is important to train employees on the signs of impairment,” said Bierman while noting there is no drug test that will say how much marijuana is in a person’s system. “It will only tell you positive or negative.”
Medical marijuana will not be smoked. Instead it will come in the form of oils, tinctures, plant material, patches, vaporization, and other forms approved by the Ohio Pharmacy Board. It cannot be attractive to children.
Bierman said another consideration for employers is the affect a company’s policy toward medical marijuana could have on business.
“If you have federal contracts, will allowing medical marijuana cost your business a contract?,” she asked. “Also, allowing its use could affect your lease, union contracts, liability insurance, professional licensure/credentials, business clients, or even your customers who may be offended by it.”
Other factors include what other states a business has employees, those in security sensitive positions, public image of the business, as well as other business considerations.
Bierman also suggested that employers who were going to allow medical marijuana’s use to take precautions.
“If you are allowing it, remember that employers are responsible for validating if the employee’s card is legitimate, is it being used as doctor recommended, when is the employee using it, and is the employee safe to work their current schedule?”
When medical marijuana will actually be available is anybody’s guess, but most expect its availability to begin late this year and grow slowly but steadily.
Reach Darrell Wacker at (937) 684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.