No Need To Accommodate Medical Pot, Employers Told
October 4, 2013
NJ Herald Article
By JESSICA MASULLI REYES
NEWTON — Since New Jersey gave the OK to medical marijuana in 2010, employers have had questions: Do we have to provide health insurance coverage for medical marijuana? What if an employee using medical marijuana tests positive on a drug test? Do we have to grant employees medical marijuana breaks?
Florham Park-based attorney Stephen Trimboli answered these and other questions about maintaining a drug-free workplace Thursday morning at Sussex County Community College in a presentation called “Legal Issues of a Drug-Free Workplace.”
Trimboli, who gives the presentation a few times a year around the state, informed the 30 local employers attending that New Jersey’s Medical Marijuana Program actually will have very little impact on the current efforts to have drug-free workplaces.
He said that while the courts in New Jersey have not yet handled these questions, courts in other states have determined that employers are not required to accommodate or provide health insurance coverage for medical marijuana, and the state’s medical marijuana law does not supersede drug-free workplace policies and drug testing.
“Employers who have drug-free workplace policies have had no New Jersey case yet, but every other state except Maine has said employers can take disciplinary action against medical marijuana users,” he said.
The New Jersey Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act was signed into law on Gov. Jon Corzine’s last full day in office, Jan. 18, 2010. The law was delayed for several reasons, but Greenleaf Compassion Center opened on Dec. 6, 2012, as the first medical marijuana dispensary for patients with debilitating medical conditions who have been issued registry identification cards, Trimboli said.
For public and private businesses, the act does not require the employers to accommodate medical marijuana in the workplace, and therefore workplaces should be able to fire employees who test positive on a drug test, Trimboli said.
Trimboli also reminded the employers that marijuana is still federally prohibited despite the state’s law.
“The law is simply an exclusion from criminal penalty,” he said.
The program — a joint effort among the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, the Center for Prevention and Counseling, Sussex County Community College and the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce — also touched on several other workplace-related legal issues like drug testing employees, how to deal with suspected abuse and establishing a drug-free policy. It was the first time the program was held in Sussex County.
For more information, Christopher Barton, a coordinator with Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, said that employers can sign up for free with the state to be a drug-free workplace at www.drugfreenj.org. This will help employers develop and implement a policy and stay up to date on drug-free workplace trends. Barton said 2,700 businesses in the state are already involved in the initiative.
Rachel Wallace, a clinical supervisor for the Center for Prevention and Counseling, also encouraged employers or co-workers to call NJ 211 to find resources for anything, including drug-related issues.
“Addiction is an illness, and it is treatable,” Wallace said, adding that an employee who may have substance abuse issues could become one of the best employees with the right treatment.