Marijuana Legalization & Insurance

Many of our construction company clients are starting to become concerned about having to deal with marijuana as it becomes legalized in more states. The issue is not the recreational legalization of marijuana because that can be treated just like recreational alcohol. If a worker is incapacitated due to marijuana or alcohol, then the solution is clear as work site safety takes priority. But what about medical marijuana?

The Problem with Medical Marijuana

It is almost impossible to find a doctor who has written a prescription for medical alcohol, but there are plenty of medical marijuana patients in the 28 states that have legalized medical marijuana, and the District of Columbia as well. Alcohol can be singled out because it incapacitates a worker and puts every other worker at risk. Alcohol can also cause inferior work and affect job site production.

While medical marijuana can incapacitate a worker, it is also an effective treatment for a variety of conditions. Marijuana has been proven to be an effective pain management substance, it brings relief to people suffering from severe asthma, and it significantly reduces the effects of glaucoma. A worker with any of these conditions would be unable to do their job effectively, and marijuana is the most effective treatment for many people.

The Legal Status of Marijuana

Marijuana is a schedule 1 controlled substance as far as the federal government is concerned. That means that the federal government, in all instances, considers marijuana to be illegal. While the federal government can offer waivers for medical purposes, the physician would have to put together a convincing argument to get the feds to allow treatment by marijuana.

Federal laws always take priority over state laws, which means that marijuana is still technically illegal in the states where it has been legalized. The federal government chooses not to take any action against the legalization laws because of the costs that would be involved. But it is good to remember that if the feds ever wanted to start shutting down stores that sell marijuana in states where it is legal, it can do that.

So What Should You Do?

Because marijuana is still considered a schedule 1 banned substance, many construction companies are choosing to punish employees who test positive for marijuana. A famous case in 2016 saw the NFL suspend a Buffalo Bills defensive end because he insisted on taking medical marijuana even after he had been suspended once for violating the drug policy. Medical marijuana is legal in New York State, but the NFL falls back on the federal states of marijuana in its decisions.

Any company with a national presence or does jobs in states other than their home state will want to consider the federal status of marijuana as a banned substance. A company in a state that has legalized marijuana may also want to consider the federal status of marijuana if that company’s policy of allowing medical marijuana should ever result in a lawsuit filed in federal court.

As a risk management company, we are always interested in planning for the worst case scenario. But we will work with our customers to help them develop a policy on medical marijuana that makes sense for that customer. In the broad picture, banning marijuana as a substance used for any reason by employees is a policy that cuts out the most risk for our clients. Until the feds alter the status of marijuana, trying to tangle with
the medical marijuana laws could be a losing proposition.