Most states provide no legal protection if you’re fired for using medical marijuana

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The idea of states’ rights is what opened the door to marijuana legalization around the country. But here’s the thing about states’ rights for both employees and employers: You better know exactly what those rights are in the state where you live.

That’s especially important for marijuana users who want to hold on to their current job.

Cannabis is now legal for medical use in 33 states. Doctors can, and do, prescribe it to patients for issues such as chronic pain. But all that is meaningless in many states when it comes to the relationship between you and your employer. Depending on where you live, you can still get fired for using legal medical marijuana.

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“The right to use marijuana legally under state law does not necessarily guarantee job protection for exercising that right,” according to, which provides legal advice to individuals and small businesses. “Unless your state’s marijuana law specifically prohibits your employer from firing you for off duty marijuana use, you probably won’t be protected.”

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States that offer protections.

When it comes to concerns about drug tests by employers, marijuana presents a problem because it can still be detected in the bloodstream long after it’s been used. That means a joint smoked under the recommendation of your doctor on Saturday afternoon could lead to failing a random drug test on Tuesday morning.

Lawmakers in some states see that as a problem. According to Global HR Research, 13 states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books that protect employees from getting fired for using medical cannabis. The states are:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • West Virginia

Even in these states, it’s important to become familiar with the fine print. For example. Arkansas law protects employees, but not from using cannabis during work hours. Such nuances are numerous in all the states.

Related: New Jersey Lawmakers Admit Failure on Weed Legalization, Will Let Voters Decide in 2020

Things to know in your state.

If your state is not among those offering protections, then it’s important to know how the state approaches drug testing. Also, it’s important to know that drug testing has been an issue for both marijuana users and those who take products that include hemp-derived CBD, which also can provide a positive result on a drug test.

The big problem is [marijuana] remains illegal federally except for narrow exceptions. There’s this conflict, and a lot of the court rulings have deferred to federal law. It’s a very confusing situation.

The first issue to know is the circumstances under which your state allows drug testing. Most states allow businesses to conduct a drug test as part of a pre-employment screening. However, fewer states allow employers to test their works randomly once they are on the job. Check to see if your state is one of those.

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Most states only allow testing of current employees if there is reason to believe they are under the influence of drugs, they hold a position where they could threaten public safety or the safety of co-workers, or they have been involved in an accident.

Some states also may allow employees to challenge positive drug test results.

As with everything dealing with cannabis currently, it’s a patchwork quilt of laws across the country that both entrepreneurs and employees need to understand. As an attorney told Governing, “The big problem is [marijuana] remains illegal federally except for narrow exceptions. There’s this conflict, and a lot of the court rulings have deferred to federal law. It’s a very confusing situation.”

In short, using marijuana in Little Rock is not the same as using it in Long Beach. It’s the responsibility of every marijuana user – and the businesses that employ them – to know the laws in their area.

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