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MEDICAL MARIJUANA AT WORK Employers should wait to see how new Pa. law takes shape; but act now to minimize risk

It may take two years for Pennsylvania’s new medical marijuana law to be fully implemented, but it’s not too early for employers to take action now to minimize their potential exposure under the new law, attorneys specializing in labor and employment matters said.

It may take two years for Pennsylvania’s new medical marijuana law to be fully implemented, but it’s not too early for employers to take action now to minimize their potential exposure under the new law, attorneys specializing in labor and employment matters said.

In fact, attorneys recommend that employers take steps such as revising policies and handbooks, reviewing job descriptions and documenting signs of an employee who is believed to be under the influence. Attorneys also said employers should educate workers about the new law and their drug and testing polices.

Gov. Tom Wolf last month signed Senate Bill 3 into law, placing Pennsylvania among the 23 other states and the District of Columbia that offer legalized medical marijuana.

The law, which takes effect this month, will allow patients with serious medical conditions to access, with a registered physician’s prescription, medical marijuana at an approved dispensary. Up to 150 dispensaries will be allowed.

Approved forms of marijuana will be limited to pills, creams and oils that can be used in a vapor. Registered physicians will be able to prescribe for 17 qualifying conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, autism, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and glaucoma.

With the governor’s ink still drying on the bill, companies may be struggling to catch up with the law’s implications, especially the murky matter of marijuana still being classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the federal government, making it illegal to grow, sell or use.

Section 1107 of the act provides that the Pennsylvania Department of Health may issue temporary regulations, good for up to two years, to help implement the law. Other provisions require that regulations be issued specifically addressing possession and use of medical marijuana by employees of schools, child care, social service or youth development centers.

“Hopefully, these regulations will help address many undefined terms and give employers guidance on handling these issues in the workplace,” said George A. Voegele Jr., a labor and employment attorney for Cozen O’Connor, a national law firm based in Philadelphia.

He recommended employers take four steps while waiting for clarifying regulations from the state to reduce potential exposure under the new law:

“Employers who have a zero tolerance policy may need to modify that stance for any registered medical marijuana users,” Voegele said. “Pennsylvania employers should revise their anti-discrimination policies to state that no employee may be discharged, threatened or otherwise discriminated or retaliated against regarding compensation, terms, conditions, location or privileges solely on the basis of such employee’s status as an individual who is certified to use medical marijuana.”

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