Omid Nosrati

How will the legalization of recreational marijuana affect California employment?

Residents of Maine, Nevada, Massachusetts and California made history last month when they voted to join the ranks of Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Colorado by legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Once the initial shock -- and, in some circles, elation -- of these pro-marijuana victories wore off, however, many questions understandably started to arise among residents of these states as to how their respective laws would be implemented, how they would be reconciled with the federal government's disparate stance on marijuana, and they would affect professional lives.

This final question is, of course, especially pressing here in California, the most populous state in the nation that is viewed as a global hub for commerce, manufacturing, entertainment and, of course, technology.

As it turns out, those looking for an answer need not look any further than the language of the new law permitting recreational marijuana in the Golden State. Indeed, it expressly declares that employers retain the right to maintain a workplace that is both alcohol-free and drug-free, and that preexisting policies prohibiting the use of marijuana by current and prospective employees are still valid.

While it's true that employers in some sectors have softened their stance against marijuana owing to recent legalization efforts, a shift in social mores toward the drug and a recognition that an overly strict drug screening policy will perhaps result in the disqualification of otherwise talented personnel, experts caution that this is currently more the exception than the norm.  

Furthermore, they caution that the absence of a reliable blood or urine test to determine when marijuana use last occurred and establish usage patterns will serve as no barrier to termination or a rejected application.   

Accordingly, workers are urged to be cognizant of their employer's stance on marijuana before using it for recreational purposes in their time away from work, and for prospective employees to be aware of drug screening policies.

This reality concerning recreational marijuana should perhaps come as little surprise given that the California Supreme Court ruled as recently as 2008 that employer's do not have to accommodate the use of medical marijuana by employees while off-the-clock given that the drug still considered illegal under federal law.

If you have reason to believe your recent termination was legally impermissible, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can examine your situation, explain the law and pursue the necessary solutions.  

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