Illinois Marijuana Legalization and How It Impacts Companies

If there’s one thing that made headlines during the 2016 polls — apart from the Presidential election — it was the legalization of marijuana in various forms. Several states held votes to determine the future of legal marijuana in the country, and several more continue to debate it to this day.

Following the footsteps of Colorado and Washington, which legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes in 2012, California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes in 2016. Vermont followed them by making a similar move in 2018. And, as you undoubtedly know, in June 2019, Illinois legalized recreational marijuana usage when Governor Pritzker signed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which will come into effect on January 1, 2020.

What Employers Need to Know About Illinois Marijuana Legalization

The new marijuana legalization law protects the rights of employees in the state of Illinois to use marijuana — when they’re off-duty. It is an amendment to the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act, which prohibits employers from taking disciplinary action against employees for using “lawful products (products legal under state law)” outside the workplace premises during off-duty hours.

However, employers in Illinois will continue using the required drug testing as per federal and state laws. They may also continue to abide by the existing policies to maintain federal contracts.

Also, as per the new law, Illinois employers will continue using rational zero-tolerance employment policies or workplace policies around consumption, storage, or use of marijuana (and other drugs) on workplace premises. And, of course, the policies must be applied in a non-discriminatory way.

Impact of Marijuana Legalization on Workplace Health and Safety

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970, a federal drug policy in the U.S., lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

Schedule I drugs come with a high potential for abuse and have not been accepted for medical usage. They are considered the most dangerous drugs with potentially hazardous physical and psychological effects.

Although a 2017 National Academies report suggests that in-depth research is required to link the use of marijuana with different ailments and injuries, marijuana can come with the following potential harmful side effects:

● Diabetes, heart attack, and stroke
● Cancer
● Respiratory diseases
● Substance abuse
● Mental issues such as social anxiety disorders and schizophrenia
● Attention, learning and memory impairment
● Lower birth weight
● Workplace accidents

Other effects of marijuana consumption:

● Unusual demeanor or behavior
● Carelessness or negligence in operating workplace equipment or machinery
● Disregard of the employer’s self-safety or the safety of others around
● Disruption of a manufacturing or production process

How to Deal With Employee Marijuana Use

The bottom line with employee marijuana use? Their safety and the safety of their coworkers, of course.

As always, keep an eye on the laws and be sure to stay within state and federal regulations. Here are some general guidelines to follow as well:

● Train managers to identify the signs and symptoms of marijuana consumption.
● Notify managers to document all evidence supporting a possible case against an employee under the influence of marijuana on workplace premises.
● Develop a process where employees get a reasonable opportunity to defend themselves and prove that they were not under the influence of marijuana on workplace premises.
● Update your company policies regarding the new law for current and future employees.

Finally, make it a point to clearly communicate to the workforce that marijuana usage on-the-job remains a punishable offense. Properly explained, they should understand your concerns as it relates to everyone’s safety and the company’s ability to continue satisfying its customer base.