5OYS: How is medical marijuana handled in the workplace?


DES MOINES – Medical marijuana has been legal in Iowa for people to use, distribute, purchase, and create. But employers are still navigating the legal system with this new product.

Local 5 On Your Side spoke to an employment lawyer in Des Moines. Patrick Smith said he’s taken questions from some employers on how to handle medical marijuana in the workplace and positive drug tests. Smith said that Iowa law doesn’t have protections for the employee, and it’s only a matter of time before a lawsuit comes up.

“In the event that an applicant or an employee tests positive for marijuana, and they’re certified, that’s what’s called into question whether the employer can act on the drug testing policy like they normally would,” said Smith. “The gray area comes in under Iowa’s drug testing law. An employer has the right to test for marijuana. And if there is a positive screen, whether an applicant or an employee, they have a right to a zero tolerance policy…the gray area comes in with the medical marijuana because in Iowa, you have to have a card that allows them to use medical marijuana…so it’s possible that one of those medical conditions might be a qualifying disability under Iowa law. And if that’s the case, then the employer has an obligation to have a dialogue with the employee to see if there’s a reasonable accommodation with the disability.”

According to Smith, an employer does not have a right to access medical-related questions, unless there’s a good reason for it, and there are only a limited amount of reasons.

Local 5 On Your Side asked Smith how should an employer handle a positive marijuana case?

“If the employer doesn’t have any knowledge whether the person uses medical marijuana, they should treat it the same under their policy,” said Smith. “If the employee discloses that they have a medical marijuana card, that’s where I advise the employer to pause and find out more.”

Smith said he hasn’t seen any cases of employers and employees getting into legal issues regarding medical marijuana or CBD, but he says it’s only a matter of time.

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