Weed in the Workplace: Confusion over Marijuana Policy

Mature businessman smoking in the office

FBI is reportedly reconsidering its current policy against hiring marijuana users. Why the proposed switch? The realization that many successful computer hackers are also marijuana smokers has come to light. Excluding marijuana users could be costing the agency some of the most able hackers in an age of spiraling cyber-crime. The public talk about changing FBI policy has led some marijuana users to think that drug use and job security are no longer mutually exclusive – but that still remains a pretty big leap.

State Policy vs. Company Policy

So far two states, Washington and Colorado, have legalized marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use. People living in those states may be assuming that this means they cannot lose their job for smoking pot. However, just because the state grants permission does not mean that employers must also grant permission to use the drug. State law does not abrogate company policies that require employees to remain drug-free.

In fact, the Colorado law, which eased prohibitions against marijuana, specifically states that employers retain the right to a drug-free work environment. So just because it is legal in the state does not mean workers are protected on the job if they decide to light up on the weekend. The state grants permission, but the boss can still fire you on Monday morning if you don’t pass a drug test.

The Problem of Testing

To make matters more confusing, neither Washington nor Colorado has yet established a reliable test for measuring marijuana-induced impairment. Most companies use a simple test that shows whether or not marijuana is in a person’s system, not whether or not it is currently at a level to cause impairment. And traces of marijuana can remain in a person’s system for more than a week. The kinds of tests used by police officers to measure alcohol impairment in drivers are not yet available.

Safety and Legal Concerns

Since employers are responsible for workplace safety, they may not be willing to give employees the benefit of the doubt on the issue. And since they are also the ones who would have to deal with potential lawsuits, it isn’t likely that a company that had a drug-free policy before legalization is ready to lift those prohibitions just because the state says it’s okay.


Marijuana continues to hold a spot on the government’s Schedule 1 list, which means that the government views it as substance with no proven medical benefit and a high risk for addiction. Thus, even though the state may decide to remove penalties for using pot, the addiction risks still remain.

The bottom line is that some employers may be willing to overlook marijuana use in places where it’s legal – but employers are not required to allow employees to use pot. Doing so still involves multiple risks. Just because the state grants permission is no guarantee that a boss will do the same.

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