Medical marijuana in the workplace, part 1: Is marijuana legal?

Is marijuana legal? If so, where? Or under what circumstances?

The most pressing question is this: is marijuana legal? No, it’s not unequivocally legal.

Federal Law Prohibits Marijuana Use

Marijuana is classified by the Federal government as an illegal drug. Federal law often preempts state law, so the general rule is that marijuana is illegal. Around twenty states, including Texas, Wisconsin, and Virginia, completely prohibit marijuana use. If an employer receives Federal dollars for their operation, that employer may also not be permitted to accommodate an employee’s marijuana use.

Location, Location, Location

That said, medical marijuana has been approved for use in many U.S. states, including New York, Florida, and Illinois. A patient who has been issued a medical marijuana card may use marijuana to treat various conditions, including fibromyalgia, glaucoma, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and other disorders. These states may have laws protecting employees who are prescribed medical marijuana. For example, Pennsylvania (my home state) recently implemented a Medical Marijuana Act, which provides that an employer may not fire, retaliate against, or refuse to hire an employee solely on that person’s authorized use of medical marijuana.

Recreational marijuana has been approved in many U.S. states as well. Recreational use isn’t only for Pacific-coast states like California and Oregon. Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Washington, D.C. are some of the lesser-known states permitting both recreational and medical uses.

Does that mean that marijuana is legal for all purposes where someone is permitted to use it? Does it mean that an employee is allowed unrestricted use of marijuana? Again, no – it depends on the type of work that the employee performs and the timing of the employee’s use. In the next article in the series, we’ll explore when an employer must allow for the use of medical marijuana.

This is the first of three articles originally published on Cyber Job Central on February 18, 2020 (


Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act (Act 16 of 2018, 35 P.S. §§ 10231.101 et seq.).

Susan M. Heathfield, What Information is Stored in Employee Medical Records? HR’s Legal Obligation to Protect Medical Information About Employees, (last visited Feb. 7, 2020).

Eddie Miller and Boris Tsibelman, 5 Tips to Help Employers Deal With Legal Marijuana Use at Work, (last visited Feb. 7, 2020).

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Job Applicants and the Americans with Disabilities Act, (last visited Feb. 7, 2020).

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Pre-Employment Inquiries and Medical Questions & Examinations, (last visited Feb. 7, 2020).

Published by nellabloom

I help small-business owners with their legal needs – from startup to shut-down and the issues in between.

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