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When Marijuana is Legalized in Georgia, How Will That Impact the Workplace?

 It's only a matter of time. Although Georgia law continues to prohibit the use, sale, possession, growth or distribution of marijuana as of March 2019, it is only a matter of time before it becomes legalized in the state of Georgia. As with the end of alcohol prohibition in 1933, statewide temperance laws were continued after the 18th amendment repeal in some states and Mississippi remained "dry" until 1966: it just depends on the state and how conservative its laws are. But as we get closer to legalization, will the use of marijuana still be prohibited at work, and especially outside of working hours?

In recent news, an issue regarding not hiring people who want to be become Atlanta police officers who have used marijuana in the past and could not be hired because of this is up for debate. Rules are being considered for change to hire those who have used marijuana in the past, but once hired, are subjected to zero tolerance, on and off the job. This is, rightfully so, causing problems for those who have been turned down in the past due to marijuana use at any time in their lives. The same rule applies to many employers, in the private and public sectors, so it's probably going to get dicey before the smoke finally clears. 

It's no longer a matter of if … it's a matter of when. The big question is how legalization of marijuana will affect the workplace. For many employers, implementing new-hire drug testing serves to help save money by offering large discounts on Workers' Compensation insurance premiums. But in some rural areas or specialized fields it is sometimes difficult to find qualified workers who can pass a drug test.; this is where a well-written employee handbook put together by your HR department or Human Resource company is worth its weight in gold.

But what about an employee who has been prescribed medicinal marijuana or THC oil by a qualified doctor? In general, Georgia employers may have and maintain a zero-tolerance policy on the use of marijuana in any form. As of now, Georgia courts have not ruled on whether or not such a ban discriminates against disabled employees who have been prescribed the use of marijuana by a doctor. Other states have ruled, some for the employee, some for the employer. For now, it appears that, until a court rules otherwise, not hiring a THC user or terminating one is permissible. Having a clear and unambiguous statement in the employee handbook is a good idea.

It all comes down to employers keeping the workplace safe, keeping employees happy, and working within the law. Common sense also plays a big part in all of this. Alcohol, although not illegal, is not permitted for use during work hours. Just as an employer will not tolerate an employee coming to work snockered, they will not tolerate an employee coming to work stoned. All of this should be clearly and completely covered in your employee handbook. Legalization of marijuana does not mean it would be legal to partake during work hours, just as alcohol is not permitted, unless otherwise stated in your employee handbook.

Zero tolerance is the language used in most employee handbooks, and those two words make it crystal clear about your company's stance on drugs and alcohol. If you have not addressed this issue in your handbook or if you need to update it with the pending legalization of marijuana, a good Human Resource company like Stellaris Group in Marietta, Georgia can sit down with you and draft an unambiguous book of company policies that leave no question about where your company stands regarding drug and alcohol use in the workplace.

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