Can Washington Employers Enforce a Drug-Free Workplace Now That Marijuana is Legal?

 by lucy

Can Washington employers enforce a drug-free workplace now that marijuana is legal under I-502?  That is the question that is creating conflict between marijuana advocates and business owners in the Evergreen State.

Marijuana is now legal for adults age 21 and older in Washington, but I-502 does not give any protection for marijuana users who work in a drug free environment.  That means that it is still within an employer’s rights to require employees to take, and pass, drug tests in order to keep their jobs.

Workers and unions are beginning to stand up to this idea, given that drug tests don’t determine whether someone smoked marijuana hours, days, or weeks prior to the test or whether their drug use fell on days when they were working.

Senior staff attorney at the Teamsters Local 117 Dan Swedlow told the Seattle Times, “We think 502 changes everything.  We’re clearly headed for a showdown with some employers.”

The teamsters union has already challenged the suspension of a forklift operator who was suspended for smoking medical marijuana he was prescribed for gout.  The Seattle-based judge ruled in favor of the forklift driver.

The possibility of losing your job for smoking something that is legal is not a consequence that many considered when they voted in favor of I-502.  Seattle employment law attorney Michael Subit explained, “I think people who voted on 502 will be really surprised that if you use it in your home, in accordance with the initiative, you can still get fired.”

Pre-employment and random drug screenings are frequently used in Washington for industries that require the use of heavy machinery, such as transportation or construction.  It is expected that owners of businesses in those fields will still try to mandate testing for marijuana.

Police officers will also not be permitted to smoke marijuana under I-502, according to Sue Rahr, the head of the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission.  Individuals who have smoked marijuana in the past three years are not eligible to become police officers in Washington, due to the drug’s illegal status on the federal level.

Rahr explained, “The unintended consequences are pretty worrisome at this point.  I’ve told my son and his friends: ‘Don’t consider it a green light on Dec. 6 unless you know what you’re doing with the rest of your life.”

It is likely that this conflict will continue to come to a head and inspire a number of lawsuits against employers who fire employees or refuse to hire potential employees for having THC in their system.  Some Washington employment law attorneys even anticipate that the state will eventually have to change the language of I-502 to clarify whether it is legal for employers to hold their employees to a no-tolerance drug policy in spite of marijuana’s legal status in the state.



10 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. 1

    kushjunkie420 said on Nov 30, 2012

    I wondered when would be hearing about this situation.

  2. 0

    BlazinAlberts said on Nov 30, 2012

    Im dealing with this right now..

  3. 0

    LiveFree said on Nov 30, 2012

    This is the next of many battles. I expect the feds to do nothing so they can hold employers who have federal contracts hostage. To eligible for federal contracts an employer must have a drug free workplace policy in place. And since the feds do not recognize state law, they law governs.
    This is the firewall for the feds to keep weed illegal, by screwing the average joe.

    The ony way to get this sorted out is to have the feds challenge the laws in colorado andwashington which will force this to the supreme court. The great battle over the tenth amendment will then ensue.

    Given that the obama administration is all about big govt, i don't think thy will take the risk of unleashing the constitutional rights and the power of the federal govt because it may diminish their power if they lose

  4. 3

    Hxcody45 said on Nov 30, 2012

    Youre expected to not arrive to any workplace while intoxicated from alcohol or any other drugs that are legal, so its only fair that we have to say that we cant show up to work high and be expected to perform the same duties. The only problem their having is not being able to tell when exactly marijuana was consumed by a person, so in order for work places to protect themselves they have to uphold rules like these.

  5. 2

    chitownbud said on Nov 30, 2012

    weeds such an unique "drug" good luck with this, i can only smoke for myself and the ppl i know but the vast majority of the stoners i know get high before/during work and there productive members of society……there guna have to figure out the whole stoned driving thing too, to regulate it in the same manner as alcohol shows a basic lack of understand of the 2 drugs

  6. 0

    MACVISHION said on Dec 1, 2012

    Good vibes your way JAlbert

  7. 0

    Elvers said on Dec 3, 2012

    I remember when I was fishing Albacore before I had gotten busted.,I got high on the boat for the first time on the water it was an alright felling I never did it again. I was on the chum tank when the skipper came down from the wheel house and told me to get into the rack and fish, I'm left handed and pull on my pole differently than a right'y, so the old man tells me to get out of the rack and he's going to show me how it's done. he get's a fish on the line it pulls him down around and threw the rack, this is funny as hell watching all this as he had to hand line his pole instead on throwing the fish over his shoulder. I asked is that how it's done? he gave me a dirty look and told me to get my ass back in the rack, never heard another comment about my pulling fish again. I even harpooned a swordfish 600 lb'er on that trip because nobody else knew how. we loaded the boat in 4 days.!!!

  8. 0

    Elvers said on Dec 3, 2012

    in other words use your discretion about where your going to get high at don't just do it on a whim like I did. I didn't get fired for being high I got busted for selling pot and then got fired. it keep't me out of Nam 1967.

  9. 0

    559airandtrees said on Dec 4, 2012

    Hxcody45 caffeine is a drug is that tested for and is a person not allowed to drink coffee before work, star bucks are the real drug dealers selling it world wide.

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