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With medical marijuana a reality, what do employers need to know?

Earlier this week, medical marijuana officially became accessible to any Floridian in possession of state-issued identification card, which serves to verify that their use of the drug to treat a qualifying medical condition has been approved by a licensed physician.

While Florida is now among the majority of states in which marijuana has been legalized for medicinal purposes, it's important to note that state law has provided state health officials with six months to devise a strategy for distributing the substance.

This is significant for Sunshine State employers, as it will provide them with more time to consider how they want to proceed in this new legal environment. Indeed, those who entertain any doubts about the critical nature of this issue should stop to consider a few points.

First, while the language of the new law permits those suffering from certain delineated chronic medical conditions like cancer, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis to secure access to medical marijuana, it also permits those suffering from "other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable" to secure access provided a physician believes that use of the drug would "likely outweigh the potential health risks."   

What this relative ease of access means for employers is that the number of current workers -- and even job applicants -- possibly using medical marijuana will be anything but negligible in the years ahead.    

The second point that Florida employers with doubts about the impact of medical marijuana should consider is that while the language of the new law expressly relieves them of the need to facilitate any "on-site medical use of marijuana," it is noticeably silent on employer rights and responsibilities.

This is particularly true in relation to the important issue of whether reasonable accommodations must be made for those employees or applicants using medical marijuana. In other words, it's somewhat unclear as to whether employers can stick to their zero-tolerance workplace drug policies without risking legal exposure.

We'll continue this discussion in our next post, exploring some of the suggestions being offered by experts as to how Florida employers can protect their best interests in this admittedly cloudy legal landscape going forward.

In the meantime, if you have questions about this issue or would like to learn more about your responsibilities as an employer, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional.

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