Ohio legalizes medical marijuana, maintains robust protections for employers

In early June, Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 523 into law, making Ohio the 25th state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. However, it has been a long road for the legislature to get to this point.

Laying groundwork

The journey began last fall when Responsible Ohio’s ballot initiative, Issue 3, which would have legalized marijuana for both medicinal and recreational purposes, was soundly defeated by an Ohio Chamber-led coalition.

Through this process Ohio lawmakers learned that roughly 70 to 80 percent of Ohio’s population supported medical marijuana in some form. Being responsive to their constituents, the legislature forged an effort to learn more about medical marijuana.

The Ohio Senate embarked on a listening tour of major metro areas around the state to ask citizens for feedback and information on the topic. The Ohio House also created the Medical Marijuana Task Force to formally examine the issue.

As a result of these, the groundwork for HB 523 was laid. Although the Ohio Chamber never endorsed the legalization of medical marijuana, our staff worked diligently to ensure the bill contains safeguards for Ohio employers.

Breaking down the bill

HB 523 included a number of protections for employers advocated by the Ohio Chamber. The inclusion of these provisions was crucial in allowing employers to maintain both safety for workers and comprehensive human resources policies.

Further, the law establishes clear and unambiguous rules that will help prevent costly legal battles over how medical marijuana will be handled in the workplace.

The critical protections are:

  • Employers aren’t required to permit or accommodate an employee’s use, possession or distribution of medical marijuana.
  • An employer is allowed to discharge, refuse to hire, discipline or take adverse employment actions against an individual with respect to tenure, terms, conditions or privileges of employment due to the individual’s use, possession or distribution of medical marijuana.
  • Employers can still establish and enforce a drug testing policy, drug-free workplace policy or zero-tolerance drug policy.
  • It is explicitly stated this law isn’t meant to interfere with any federal restrictions on employment, including Department of Transportation regulations.
  • The bill doesn’t permit a person to sue an employer for refusing to hire, discharging, disciplining, discriminating, retaliating or otherwise taking an adverse employment action against a person with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions or privileges of employment due to medical marijuana.
  • The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation may still grant rebates or discounts on premium rates to employers who participate in a BWC drug-free workplace program.
  • An employee who is discharged due to his or her use of medical marijuana would be ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits if the medical marijuana use was in violation of an employer’s drug-free workplace policy, zero-tolerance policy, or other formal program or policy regulating the use of medical marijuana.
  • The bill reiterates that an employee is ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits if the employee was under the influence of marijuana, whether recommended by a physician or not, and being under the influence was the proximate cause of the injury.

The Ohio Chamber applauds the work of the Ohio Legislature to handle this difficult issue in a comprehensive manner. The above protections allow for a safe and productive working environment for all Ohioans, and provide businesses with the flexibility to create human resources policies that are desired for their workplace.

 

Samantha Cotten is the director of Public Policy Communications with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio’s largest and most diverse statewide business advocacy group, has been a consistent voice for business since 1893.