LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — With Arkansas medical marijuana sales in the millions within just a few short months, there's no doubt thousands of people are using it in their daily lives.
That being said, it poses a dilemma for employers. How do they handle employees who legally have a card and use it for medicinal purposes? Will they be drug tested? Is it possible to get fired?
After researching medical marijuana policies among central Arkansas' largest employers, a few answers arose.
Multiple employers updated their policies to allow some protection for certain employees with a medical marijuana card.
But it can get complicated, because only a few of them wanted to speak on camera, saying they don't want to "be the poster child."
Users at dispensaries turned away asked if they were worried about repercussions at work, saying they didn't want their bosses to know.
But what we found is, so long as there isn't a safety concern, employers are being proactive.
Since May 10, the day the first patient, Sean Sharp, made history legally purchasing medical marijuana in Arkansas, dispensaries have sold $3.46 million in product.
"It means everything to me. I'll be able to spend more quality time with my granddaughter. t's worth it," Sharp said.
A doctor issued Sharp his card for help following a cancer diagnosis.
And while Sharp never mentioned any employment concern now having a legal card, others do worry.
"The easiest thing to do is just have a blanket policy nobody can use any kind of a drug that's considered a controlled substance under federal law – that's a safe position for an employer to take"
But Law professor Terrence Cain said when Arkansas voters legalized medical marijuana, the employment landscape in our state changed.
Federally pot is still illegal, but not in Arkansas, so while employers here are not required to change policy, we've learned many of them are doing so anyway.
"Rather than invite litigation, [we're] trying to be proactive and see if there is a way to manage it," said
We asked eight of central Arkansas's largest employers or organizations to share policy changes with us:
- City of Little Rock
- City of North Little Rock
- Baptist Health
- Arkansas Children's hospital
- Little Rock School District
- Pulaski County School District
- Arkansas Trucking Association
Only the trucking association prohibits it entirely, saying, "commercial drivers are subject to federal law which prohibits marijuana use of any kind. Truck drivers are not allowed to consume marijuana in any form, even with a card."
Children's and PCSSD are still working to update policy to address the changes.
The rest all have some protections in place, with UAMS saying they will not take action against an employee who tests positive for THC in a random drug screen provided that the employee has appropriate medical documentation and is not impaired on the job.
Baptist said, "if you have a medical marijuana card, you will not be terminated if you test positive for THC as long as you are not impaired at work."
The protections end, however, when an employee is in a safety-sensitive position. For example police, fire, medical, drivers or people who operate machinery.
The cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock said that if you're in a safety-sensitive position, even if you have a card, you could be subject to termination if you have a medical marijuana card.
The same at Little Rock schools. There is random drug testing, but the outcome depends on "'position and circumstance." If the employee was in safety and security or transportation, they must be drug-free.
"If the employer can demonstrate that being drug-free is necessary for effective performance, for the job consistent with business necessity then the employer can demand the person be drug-free," said Professor Cain.
The bottom line, according to Professor Cain, these are uncharted waters— and he expects more policy changes.
"I'm curious more than anything else as to how this is gonna play out in the employment sector."
The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with disabilities and it's possible someone could use medical marijuana for their disability.
Federal and state laws say an employee can't be discriminated against based on a disability, so employers are taking that into consideration also.