MMJ Could Challenge Illinois Employer Drug Testing Policies

ArizonaMedicalMarijuanaA new day is coming for Illinois employers. While it may not dawn right away, preparations for the acceptance, understanding and management of cases dealing with medical marijuana are already underway.

In August, Illinois became the 20th state in the country to approve the sale, production and use of marijuana or cannabis, a substance that once had a very different image.

No longer is marijuana viewed as the gateway drug that leads to the descent into drug addiction, a point that made it a leading battleground in the so-called war on drugs, said Peoria attorney Reed Roesler, who held a briefing for area employers last week as part of a joint effort by the AAIM Employers’ Association and the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce.

“There’s been a momentous change both in the use of cannabis and in the approach of law enforcement on cannabis,” said Roesler, noting that just 10 years before he’d made a presentation on drug testing in the workplace at the Peoria chamber.

“Early on, if an employer didn’t have a drug testing policy in place, it was almost viewed as condoning the use of drugs,” he said.

As background, Roesler pointed out that the war on drugs was declared to stem an increase in heroin addiction cases following the Vietnam War.

“By 1996, all that legislative effort to prosecute the war on drugs began to grind to a halt,” he said.

“The atmosphere is dramatically different in 2013,” said Roseler.

While cannabis is no longer viewed the same way it was in earlier years, employers have to contend with one of the basic tenets of the new law.

“The approved use of cannabis is for people with some kind of disability,” he stated, referring to the therapeutic use of the drug for cancer, glaucoma and other conditions.

Just as employers can’t single out smokers or drinkers by law – a law that cigarette companies worked to install – employers can’t be weeding out those who use medical marijuana, said Roesler.

The medical marijuana law, a pilot program that’s initially set up for four years and will probably take at least a year to set up, will require some understanding on the part of employers, he said.

“Like alcohol, marijuana has a different impact on individuals when it comes to impairment,” said Roesler.

MMJ Could Challenge Illinois Employer Drug Testing Policies

Article by Steve Tarter for Journal Star