September 30, 2013

Have medical marijuana policy in place, businesses told

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — Using medical marijuana can relax a person, ease pain and reduce anxiety.

The drug also can interfere with motor skills, the ability to drive and with decision making, and could result in lost time and production in the workplace.

So what's a business owner to do when a prospective employee who has a medical marijuana card wants a job?

Navigating the state and federal laws for drug-free workplaces and medical marijuana, defining use and abuse, impairment and influence all need a good map for employers — a policy.

That was the message tonight presented by Rob Rogers from Kennebec Behavioral Health as part of a workplace wellness program.

"It's a good idea to have a policy in place," Rogers said to a small gathering sponsored by the Greater Somerset Public Health Collaborative. "Having a policy in place protects you. It gives you a leg to stand on if it comes into question."

With a policy in place, an employee is aware of the rules of the workplace and if they don't follow the policy, there are consequences, he said.

Any substance or medication that is prescribed, be it a strong pain medication, anxiety drugs or medical marijuana, can have a place on the job, but within the strict guidelines of a company policy, according to group attendees tonight.

A boss can't refuse a person employment based solely on the fact that the person uses medical marijuana, but the employee can be told he can't use and possess marijuana at work if the business has a posted smoke-free policy or if the business could lose federal funding.

If operating any kind of machinery or driving is part of the job, the use of marijuana is not allowed. Smoking marijuana is illegal in any public place. If a business is viewed as public, then smoking it is not allowed.

"It would be my opinion that the medical marijuana issue for the employer is not as scary or not as difficult a situation that it was originally thought," said Bill McPeck, a work-life certified professional. "The law itself and rule provide a lot of guidance for employers."

A business owner is advised to form his or her own policy based on the existing law, but should also consult with a lawyer and find out what the exact laws are, Rogers said.

Medical marijuana first was approved in Maine in 1999.

It is approved for treatment of AIDS, glaucoma, cancer and other complaints. Post-traumatic stress disorder could be added to the list with changes coming Tuesday, according to a recent report.

The pot can be smoked or ingested.

Under the state medical marijuana laws an employer is not financially responsible to cover the cost of medical marijuana for a worker. An employer is not required to make special accommodations or allowances so that an employee can use marijuana while at work.

A business is not required to employ any person that is working while under the influence, according to the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Program.

Marijuana in any form is illegal under federal law. The U.S. Attorney General announced recently that the federal government would not prosecute in states where medical marijuana is legal or in states that have made small amounts of marijuana legal for recreational purposes.

"Workplaces have been working on their substance abuse policies for a long time and as new issues come up, they have to look at new policies and to adapt or adopt, based on changes that happen," said Bill Primmerman of the public health collaborative. "Substance abuse prevention starts with good policy. It's also substance use — use that's legal versus use that's abusing or illegal — it's a fine line."

Doug Harlow -- 612-2367
dharlow@centralmaine.com

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