A Blunt Discussion about Recreational Marijuana in the Workplace

As an employee, you want to make sure you are following proper workplace etiquette. Simple things like not speaking too loudly in the office, cleaning up after yourself in the lunchroom, and showing respect to colleagues in team meetings all contribute to a healthy, amiable work environment.

But some matters of workplace etiquette are difficult to judge. For instance, can you blaze up in the breakroom with your colleague Todd, order Mellow Mushroom on the company credit card, and watch Pineapple Express on the boardroom projector?

Well, no…of course not. But what you do with marijuana out of the office, and how much your employer cares, is a more complicated story.

Marijuana Laws at Work

At a baseline, employers should prioritize safety and productivity in the workplace, which means banning the use of substances that cause impairment. The obvious benchmark for this is alcohol consumption. Maybe your workplace has a Friday happy hour or other special event where folks are cracking open a few cold ones, but generally, employees aren’t allowed to drink on the job. Similarly, you wouldn’t allow the marketing team to gobble up a batch of pot brownies and go back to work.

From there, folks should be aware of specific marijuana laws at the federal, state, and local levels.

As it stands, recreational marijuana is legal in nine states and Washington, D.C. Another 29 states have legalized medical marijuana. But some states and cities have gone even further, passing laws to protect job applicants. For instance, San Francisco passed an amendment to its Fair Chance Ordinance, barring employers from considering an applicant’s past conventions related to decriminalized conduct – which includes, of course, marijuana.

But policy changes at the federal level could slow legalization efforts in certain states. In January 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice rescinded the Obama-era Cole Memorandum that had established a policy of non-interference in marijuana-friendly states. In contrast, Canada recently passed the Cannabis Act, which will legalize marijuana nationwide in October, but exact policies will vary by province.

Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana presents special circumstances in the U.S. because marijuana – in any capacity – is still federally illegal, and therefor the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require workplaces to accommodate employees who use it medicinally. However, some states do require employers to accommodate off-the-clock medical marijuana consumption.

War for Talent: Workplace Culture and Hiring Considerations

The modern war for talent calls for organizations to foster progressive, open-minded cultures that encourage a healthy work-life balance.

As organizations adapt their drug policies, they should be careful not to send a Draconian message to an evolving workforce. Most millennials and gen Z-ers are focused on building their careers, not sharing a joint, and it goes a long way to give folks the benefit of the doubt that when they are at work, they aren't doing drugs.

By extension, it would be very difficult for companies to monitor marijuana use among remote employees, especially as work-from-home flexibility becomes an increasingly popular perk.

Drug Testing

As hiring top talent becomes increasingly difficult, and as marijuana use becomes legal in more places, some companies are rethinking their policy on pre-employment drug tests. But this poses a difficult catch-22 in some job sectors. For instance, drug testing has contributed to a labor shortage in the manufacturing industry, but there's an argument to be made that it's irresponsible not to drug test job candidates that will be operating dangerous equipment.


We’ll continue to monitor all the high drama surrounding marijuana laws and workplace policies, so be sure to check back frequently.

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