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April 28, 2014

Medical Marijuana Law: Effect in Illinois

Summary:

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Last year, Illinois passed a “medical marijuana” law that became effective Jan. 1, 2014, known as the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, 410 ILCS 130/1, et seq. The act allows doctors to recommend and certify the use of medical marijuana by patients who are under the doctors’ care for certain qualifying medical conditions.

Certain rights of employers are affected, but in other ways it will be business as usual for employers. Most notably, employers cannot discriminate against a registered patient on the basis of his or her registration (in most cases). This mandate may require employers to reconfigure their drug policies and certain provisions in their employee handbooks to ensure compliance with the act. Also, there will need to be management training to educate managers and supervisors.

Contrary to what you might first think, the act still permits employers to operate a Drug Free Workplace. Employers are allowed to prohibit possession or consumption of marijuana on their property. Further, the act specifically allows employers to enforce work rules, give drug tests and discipline employees exhibiting signs of impairment while at work. Employees beware! The act is not a license to possess or be high at work.

Based on the rights that employers still retain, it appears inevitable that sticky issues will arise as the act is implemented and employers struggle with compliance as well as enforcing their own policies. For example, while the act expressly allows employers to conduct drug testing, what if an employee’s drug test registers marijuana use, but the test cannot differentiate whether that use was hours, days or months ago? Would refusing to hire that individual be okay as enforcement of a Drug Free Workplace, or would that decision be discriminating against an individual for his or her “status” as a registered medical marijuana patient? Moreover, the law allows employers to maintain a Drug Free Workplace “provided the policy is applied in a non-discriminatory manner.” It is unclear whether patients will be able to assert disparate impact claims arguing that employers’ facially neutral workplace policies have a statistical impact on their “protected class.” Additionally, the law requires that an employee disciplined for exhibiting signs of impairment must be given an opportunity to contest the basis for the determination, but the law does not provide any guidance as to what type of procedural protection the employee must receive. Finally, it is unclear what, if any, interplay this Illinois law will have with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.

Unfortunately, we believe that many of the gray areas surrounding the act will likely be resolved through future litigation. To make sure your clients are prepared, we suggest that you have a lawyer review your policies and procedures and provide training to your management personnel. Also, ensure that your clients have a robust Employment Practices Liability policy in place that will respond and defend the employers in case they are faced with a discrimination suit in relation to violation of the act.

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About the Author

Laura Zaroski is the vice president of management and employment practices liability at Socius Insurance Services. As an attorney with expertise in employment practices liability insurance, in addition to her role as a producer, Zaroski acts as a resource with respect to Socius’ employment practices liability book of business.

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