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How Will Legalized Marijuana Affect Employees in California?


Californians voted in November to legalize the personal use of marijuana in the state by way of Proposition 64 to adopt the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. This means that residents are free to smoke or consume marijuana without facing legal prosecution by the state for their use of this drug. However, many questions still exist concerning how the legalization of marijuana will affect employees in California.

While Californians may be free to use marijuana in their free time, how does marijuana use translate to employees in the workplace?

Understanding How Legalized Marijuana Affects California Employees

Employers have a priority and right to ensure that the workplace is a safe and productive environment. An employee that is under the influence of marijuana could be a hazard to other workers if he or she is careless or intoxicated to the point of exercising poor judgment. Similarly, an employee who is under the influence might not be as productive as an employee who is not using marijuana. Thus, just because marijuana is legal in California does not mean that employers are going to allow marijuana use by employees to affect their workplaces. Employer policies concerning marijuana use and drug testing will still apply even though marijuana use is legal in California.

California Employers Can Still Fire Employees for Using Marijuana

There is concern about how California employers are going to be able to drug test employees without violating employee privacy rights or without discriminating against employees who choose to use marijuana in their free time. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act does not address how the legalization of marijuana affects employees in California, and it seems that workers can be fired for their private use of marijuana, regardless of its legalization.

Legalized Use of Marijuana in California

Californians' use of marijuana will for the most part reflect how the sale and use of alcohol is treated in California. People can purchase marijuana from licensed distributors, and buyers must pay a tax when purchasing the marijuana. Similar to alcohol, people cannot operate a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, nor can they arrive at work under the influence of marijuana.

Marijuana Drug Testing in the California Workplace

California workers who use marijuana for recreational purposes may run into some trouble with their employers when it comes to drug testing. Because the human body does not metabolize marijuana the same way that it metabolizes alcohol, an employee can carry traces of marijuana in his or her system for a considerable amount of time after using it. To alleviate this burden on employees who don't arrive at work under the influence, California plans to use three million dollars of marijuana sale tax revenues to research and develop a testing method that can assess whether a person is under the influence of marijuana, or merely has marijuana lingering in their system.

But does the distinction between being under the influence of marijuana and having marijuana present in your system really matter if either could result in you being fired by your employer? This will entirely depend on individual employer drug testing policies. But one thing is for sure: employees face many new challenges in view of the legalization of marijuana in California.

Marijuana Legalization in California: Additional Information

  • Adult Use of Marijuana Act (PDF)
  • California Proposition 64: Marijuana Legalization via BallotPedia.org
  • Employee Drug and Alcohol Testing via CalChamber.com
  • Marijuana may be legal in California, but it can still get you fired (VIDEO) via MercuryNews.com
  • 10 Things You Need to Know About Legalized Pot in California via LATimes.com

If you feel your employer is violating your employee rights when it comes to workplace drug testing, feel free to contact one of our experienced California employment lawyers at Hennig Ruiz. Get a free consultation.

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