American Businesses Are Not Prepared For Legalized Marijuana

American Businesses Are Not Prepared For Legalized Marijuana

In a poll released in June from Paychex, it was revealed that 34 percent of employers are “not prepared” at all to deal with their employee’s medical marijuana use. The poll also noted that 42 percent of companies said they were “very prepared” to deal with their employees’ medical marijuana use while 24 percent claimed to be “somewhat prepared”.

For recreational cannabis use, the poll revealed that 39 percent of employers were “very prepared” to deal with employees using recreationally, 23 percent were “somewhat prepared” and 38 percent were “not prepared” to deal with employees consuming marijuana.

Paychex has a finger on the pulse of American employers: they serve over 600,000 payroll clients and process paychecks for one out of every 12 private-sector employers. For the study, Paychex polled 500 randomly selected business owners with fewer than 500 employees.

Beer or marijuana?

As more states legalize marijuana, the business world is still trying to figure out what that means for them. Do you treat employees who use cannabis at the end of the day to relax the same as those who drink a cold beer in the evening? Should employees who test positive for cannabis use be fired? Should employers test at all? Do medical marijuana cardholders get a pass?

There are still plenty of stereotypes involving those who consume cannabis — from the lazy stoner with the munchies to the blissed-out creative — but the reality is that cannabis consumers (including medical marijuana cardholders) are more on par with beer and wine drinkers.

The poll revealed that among industry sectors, those in professional services are the most prepared for medical use while those in both manufacturing and retail/wholesale are the most prepared for recreational use.

State vs Federal

Most of the gray area is a result over state versus federal laws. While medical marijuana and recreational cannabis might be legal in Oregon, for example, those in companies with federal contracts must abide by the stricter federal laws, meaning they are prohibited from popping positive for THC on a drug test if they want to keep their job.

For other employers, their line in the sand correlates to what’s allowed with alcohol, i.e., if you can’t work under the influence of alcohol then you can’t work under the influence of marijuana. So in other words, whatever an employee chooses to do on their own time is their own personal business, whether that means toking up or having a glass of wine at the end of the day.

Developing Practical Policies

The issues surrounding legalized cannabis present a challenge in developing workplace policies, however, depending on the industry and specific job role. Worker’s Compensation issues also add a layer of complexity. A typical practice is to administer a drug test in the event of a workplace accident, and it remains to be seen how that part of the equation will play out.

Martin Mucci, Paychex president and CEO said in a June press release to PRNewswire, “Marijuana legalization for medical or recreational use introduces new complexities for businesses to navigate when it comes to workplace drug enforcement policies,” he said, adding, “While marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, the legislation in each jurisdiction varies and may require business owners, especially those operating in multiple states, to comply in different capacities. Developing appropriate policies for industries with employees operating heavy machinery, for example, may present unique challenges.”

About Brian Ellis

With 6 years' experience in business journalism, Brian is the person we turn to for anything related to the business of cannabis. His news coverage spans topics including marijuana business and finance. Brian's work features on, and