Yesterday, with the approval of Question 4 by a 53.6% to 46.4% vote, Massachusetts joined a growing number of states that have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. What does this change in the law mean for Massachusetts employers?
The new law, which goes into effect on December 15, 2016, allows Massachusetts residents over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside their home and up to ten ounces at home, and to grow a limited number of marijuana plants at home. The law also allows Massachusetts adults to give (but not sell) up to one ounce of marijuana to another adult. The law provides for the establishment of a Cannabis Control Commission to be responsible for regulating and licensing the commercial sale of marijuana, something that won’t begin until at least January 2018. It will still be illegal in Massachusetts to consume marijuana in public, to smoke it anywhere that smoking tobacco is prohibited, or to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana. The possession and sale of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
For Massachusetts employers, however, this new statute doesn’t represent a significant change in the law. The text of the statute provides that employers are not required to permit or accommodate any of the conduct allowed by the statute in the workplace, and the law specifically provides that it does not affect employers’ authority to enact and enforce workplace policies restricting the consumption of marijuana by employees.
The use of marijuana for medical purposes is already legal in Massachusetts following a 2012 voter initiative. Many employers took that change in the law as an opportunity to establish or update policies and procedures relating to drugs in the workplace. For employers that don’t already have comprehensive drug and alcohol polices in place, now is a good time to address those issues with employment counsel to ensure that they comply with the law and achieve the employers’ objectives for a drug-free workplace.