Earlier this month, Ohio joined the growing number of states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The new law, which becomes effective December 7, 2023, allows adults aged 21 and older to (within certain restrictions) use, possess, transfer without renumeration to another adult, grow, purchase, and transport marijuana without being subject to arrest, criminal prosecution, or civil penalties.
A natural question for Ohio employers is whether the new law impacts their drug-free or zero-tolerance workplace policies, e.g., can employment be denied or terminated due to a positive drug test? Although the governor has asked the legislature to make changes (not specifically focused on employer policies) to the new law before it takes effect, the new law expressly states that it does not:
- Require employers to permit or accommodate an employee's use, possession, or distribution of adult-use cannabis;
- Prohibit employers from refusing to hire, discharging, disciplining, or otherwise taking adverse employment action against individuals with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of an individual's use, possession, or distribution of cannabis that is otherwise in compliance with the law;
- Prohibit employers from establishing and enforcing drug testing policies, drug-free workplace policies, or zero-tolerance drug policies;
- Permit individuals to sue employers for refusing to hire, discharging, disciplining, discriminating, retaliating, or otherwise taking an adverse employment action against them with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment related to their use of cannabis; or
- Affect the authority of the administrator of workers' compensation to grant rebates or discounts on premium rates to employers that participate in a drug-free workplace program.
The new law also provides that individuals terminated because of their cannabis use are considered to have been "discharged for just cause" for purposes of eligibility for unemployment benefits if their use violated an employer's drug-free workplace policy, zero-tolerance policy, or other formal program or policy regulating cannabis use. Thus, the new law makes it clear that employers can still enforce their drug-free and zero-tolerance workplace policies. Ohio employers should consider advising employees that the new law will not impact the enforcement of such policies.
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