The Elephant Is in the Room and Her Name Is Mary Jane

Cannabis Business Executive

James J. Oh, Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s Chicago office, authored an article in Cannabis Business Executive, titled “The Elephant Is in the Room and Her Name Is Mary Jane.”

Following is an excerpt:

Since June 25, 2019, the date that Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois signed into law the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, I have been conducting a decidedly unscientific and informal survey of whether employers have said anything about the impending legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Illinois. The Illinois Cannabis Act becomes effective January 1, 2020 and allows adults 21 or older to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana flower and five grams of marijuana concentrate for personal consumption. The Act also contains explicit “protections” for employers, including that they may continue to have “reasonable drug free workplace policies” and that they may discipline an employee if they have a “good faith belief” that the employee was impaired at work.

None of the people I have asked has said that their employer has addressed how they will handle the issue of cannabis in the workplace. Come 2020, when recreational marijuana becomes legal in Illinois (medicinal marijuana has been legal since 2013 in the Land of Lincoln), it is reasonable to expect that more of an employer’s Illinois workforce will at least try marijuana. Law-abiding citizens who were afraid to try weed before because it was illegal will feel more emboldened to try it once it becomes legal.  Most employees will have the common sense not to be stoned at work, just like they know they cannot be drunk at work. But employees may wonder if, instead of a glass of wine at lunch, can they take just one hit of hooch at lunch, or a bite of an edible, not because they want to get high, but because it was a stressful morning and they think (or know) that marijuana will calm the nerves.

There’s an elephant in the room, and her name is Mary Jane, or weed, or pot, or ganja, or reefer – whatever you want to call it. As of the writing of this article, Illinois employers will be four and a half months away from legalization in Illinois. As we get closer and closer to the effective date of the Illinois Cannabis Act, the pressure will build to say something. Employees will be wondering how their boss will deal with suspected marijuana use in the workplace. They may not say so out loud because they don’t want to be thought a stoner (think Cheech & Chong).

Regardless, should you address the elephant in the room? I say yes and recommend that companies with Illinois employees publicly announce to everyone at the company, even those employees of the company who don’t work in Illinois (some may travel to Illinois for a meeting), what company policy is on marijuana in the workplace.