Marijuana Legalization Poses Concerns for Employers

Issues & Policies

Employers who were concerned in the 2019 legislative session about the workplace consequences of marijuana legalization will find little comfort in the 2020 session.

Legalization is a priority for Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative leaders support his regional approach that brings Connecticut in line with other states that have or are in the process of legalizing cannabis.

The governor’s bill, SB 16, outlines a framework for implementing his recommendations to legalize recreational marijuana.

The comprehensive bill generally provides for adults 21 and older to possess, use, and consume cannabis and cannabis products.

It also:

  • Calls for erasing convictions for cannabis offenses
  • Outlines regulations on the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, and use of cannabis products
  • Reforms the state’s approach to traffic safety by recognizing the drug as a factor in impaired driving
  • Develops regulations regarding the ownership, licensing, location, and operation of cannabis businesses
  • Establishes a Cannabis Equity Commission to promote participation in the cannabis industry by persons from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition
  • Provides a framework for taxation

Workplace Safety

Employers will certainly be concerned about how legalized cannabis impacts employment practices.

SB 16, which is pending before the Judiciary Committee, gives employers minimal rights regarding employees’ use of cannabis outside work and limits pre-employment drug screening for cannabis. 

The bill does not force employers to allow employees to perform duties while under the influence of cannabis or possess, use, or consume cannabis in the workplace.

The bill authorizes employers to implement policies prohibiting workplace possession and use of cannabis.

It also authorizes employers to implement policies prohibiting possession, use, or other consumption of cannabis by employees in the workplace.

But those provisions do not address employer concerns about the use of cannabis outside the workplace.

The impact of marijuana legalization on workplace safety is a major concern for employers, particularly defense contractors bound by federal contracts.

Employer Limitations

As drafted, the bill removes an employer’s ability to prevent employees or prospective employees from using cannabis outside work and precludes employers from refusing to hire applicants if a drug test indicates the presence of cannabis or THC.

The bill makes pre-employment drug screening an unlawful, discriminatory practice. 

Other states with legalized cannabis continue to allow employers to use drug screening for job applicants and employees as a condition of hiring and continued employment.

The bill, to its credit, does provide exceptions where some employers may condition hiring or continued employment on the results of drug testing and employees refraining from using cannabis and cannabis products.

Such narrow exceptions include situations where such drug screening and employment conditions are required by federal law or federal regulations, required as a condition of federal contracts or grants, and for a variety of professions including:

  • Firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and law enforcement
  • Positions requiring commercial drivers’ licenses
  • Positions requiring certification of completion of a course in construction safety and health approved by OSHA
  • Positions requiring the supervision or care of children, medical patients, or vulnerable persons

 For more information, contact CBIA’s Brian Corvo (860.244.1169).


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