By now, you may have heard about the passage of HB 523, which allows for the use of medical marijuana. The bill incorporated numerous employer-protective provisions to assure employers their drug-free workplace programs, rights under unemployment and workers’ compensation laws, and rights to hire and fire employees are unaffected by the legalization of medical marijuana.

Absent these protections, employers worried medical marijuana users could be exempted from drug testing policies, entitled to workers’ compensation if injured while under the influence of marijuana, or eligible for unemployment compensation even if their use was in violation of the employer’s anti-drug workplace policies. Employers also worried medical marijuana user employees could sue if they were terminated for use of a “legal” drug, or if the employer failed to “accommodate” their use of such a drug on the job.

These worries were addressed in the bill, which provides that:

  • employers may still establish and enforce drug testing and drug-free workplace policies;
  • employers need not permit or accommodate an employee’s possession or use of medical marijuana;
  • employees may not sue employers for any adverse employment action due to the employee’s use, possession, or distribution of medical marijuana;
  • employees who use medical marijuana are ineligible for unemployment compensation if such use was in violation of the employer’s workplace policies; and
  • employees who are medical marijuana users are ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits if, at the time of the injury, they were under the influence of marijuana and if being under the influence was the proximate cause of the injury.

Effective September, 2018, marijuana growers and processors licensed by the Department of Commerce will be able to sell medical marijuana products to retail dispensaries licensed by the Pharmacy Board on the recommendation of doctors certificated by the Medical Board to recommend medical marijuana.

Significantly, the HB 523 only allows marijuana to be dispensed via oils, patches, pills, or vaporization; smoking marijuana is expressly prohibited. Also significant is that medical marijuana may be only be recommended for treatment of approximately 20 defined medical conditions, included among which are cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, glaucoma, Krohn’s disease, PTSD, MS, AIDS, hepatitis C, Parkinson’s, sickle cell anemia, or chronic and severe or intractable pain. Registered patients and caregivers are immune from prosecution for the use or possession of medical marijuana.

Ohio’s medical marijuana legislation carefully balanced the need to be compassionate towards patients for whom marijuana may provide palliative relief against the need to assure Ohio employers that the new law would not open new reasons for employees to sue or claim benefits by reason of their use of a now-legal substance that remains totally illegal under federal law.