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The beginning of 2018 brought about some changes to the way marijuana is looked at on the federal level. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, just a few days into the new year, rescinded the Obama-era memo that offered protection to states that had legalized marijuana. Marijuana businesses quickly became fearful that the federal government would begin imminent crackdowns, leading to the quick demise of their livelihood. However, the Justice Department has yet to make any movements towards cracking down on legalized marijuana on the state level. Rather, January was one of the best months as of yet for the marijuana legalization movement, despite the hints at the beginning of the month that the federal government would no longer sit idly by.
January 1 brought about the advent of the worlds largest legalized marijuana market, with the beginning of adult-use sales in California. More than 400 marijuana-related businesses were licensed as of January 1, and that number, as well as the number of consumers, is only supposed to continue rising. Additionally, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana via legislature on January 22nd, opening the door for other states to skip past the voting process as well. New Hampshire and New York are two of the states already looking to follow step, with bills already proposed in their legislature that would legalize adult-use marijuana state wide.
What does this mean for employers? Although the future remains murky, a few things are clear. First, the marijuana industry has built up enough steam that even federal threats don’t scare them. As the market continues to grow and the drug gains popularity, the likelihood of a federal crackdown becomes more and more scarce. Second, the time for employers to speak out about their rights is almost past, and we need to mobilize as an industry if we want to continue to have the right to test for marijuana. Employees taking employers to court over marijuana-positives is becoming a common occurrence, and although traditionally courts have ruled in favor of employers, recent court rulings have been taking the side of employees. While all states currently still allow testing for marijuana, legislation regarding employers rights to terminate and/or discipline SOLELY for medical marijuana status or use is becoming more commonplace. Employers need to mobilize in order to ensure their right to a drug-free, safe workplace.