Blog - California Marijuana Legalization Raises Workplace Safety Questions

 Keenan Blog

California Marijuana Legalization Raises Workplace Safety Questions

January 24, 2018

Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, has legalized personal, recreational use of marijuana. Many of the related regulations went into effect January 1, 2018. We want you to know that Proposition 64 carved out several areas of state law which remain unchanged in California that impact your employment policies and workplace safety:

  • 64 does not prohibit or preempt the rights and obligations of public and private employers to maintain a drug-free and alcohol-free workplace.
  • 64 does not require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale, or growth of marijuana in the workplace.
  • 64 does not affect the ability of employers to have policies prohibiting the use of marijuana by employees and prospective employees, or prevent employers from complying with state or federal law. Please note that marijuana is still an illegal substance under federal law.
  • 64 does not change laws making it unlawful to drive or operate a vehicle while smoking, ingesting, or being impaired by marijuana or marijuana products. Possessing an open container or open package of marijuana or marijuana products in a vehicle is still illegal.

We recommend that you review your related employment policies and practices for the safety of your organization, and ensure you enforce your policies without discrimination.

Workers’ compensation is another important area to consider in relation to Prop. 64. It is important to understand that Prop. 64 does not change laws about negligence when a person performs tasks while impaired from smoking or ingesting marijuana or marijuana products. Legalization does not change the determination of compensability of a workplace injury when marijuana intoxication or impairment causes an accident. In California, however, marijuana intoxication or impairment is not a presumed cause of an occupational accident just because the substance is present, and the employer has the burden to prove the employee was intoxicated.

Questions also remain about whether a workers’ compensation payer will have to reimburse a claimant who is prescribed marijuana for treatment in the future. The current law in California, Health & Safety Code Sec. 11362.785(d), provides that a private health insurer cannot be forced to pay for medical marijuana. This provision is being applied to workers’ compensation insurers as well, and a 2013 court case upheld the exemption. But if experience is any indication, we can expect to see further legal action from injured workers to be reimbursed for marijuana.

We have provided more details about the implications of Prop. 64 in our recent Briefing

About Tim Crawford
Tim Crawford worked at Keenan for more than 20 years and is now a freelance writer in Santa Fe, NM. He consults for the company on communication, media relations and health care reform projects.