Michigan Marijuana: Use is legal, but employers maintain the right to say 'not on the job'

    Voters legalized marijuana in Michigan, but employers are allowed to write their own policies. Even though users can't be prosecuted for meeting certain standards, that doesn't protect their job security. (WWMT/File)<p>{/p}

    With restrictions, adults 21 and older can possess, grow, smoke and ingest marijuana behind closed doors in Michigan. Voters legalized that recreational use in November.

    Legalization forced changes in how law enforcement officers and prosecutors handle the drug. It's also requiring changes in state regulations and by local jurisdictions as they establish rules on how and where marijuana can be grown, bought and sold.

    The new law also focuses a spotlight on workplaces, where employers have been forced to review company policies regarding marijuana use.

    What hasn't changed is that employers still have the right to prohibit marijuna use on the job — and to test for it.

    "The employer has the absolute right to insist that the employee be drug free," said Randal Levine, a senior partner with Levine & Levine Attorney's at Law in Kalamazoo. "If an employer has a policy that says no THC in the blood stream, then an employee who violates that policy can be subject to discharge."

    Legally, employers can restrict the legal use of pot by their employees. Policies differ depending on the business. One requirement is that employees must be informed of the terms of those policies. (WWMT)

    The new law

    The marijuana initiative filed in state legislature established legal limits for possession, use and cultivation of marijuana by persons 21 and older.

    It also allowed taxation of revenue from marijuana facilities.

    While home use is already legal, the detailed regulations that will govern how businesses sell and grow recreational marijuana still must be developed. State officials predict the first licenses for such businesses won't be issued until 2020.

    The Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act established legal parameters for how adults 21 and older could use and grow the drug. (WWMT)

    However, the law already addresses the rights of employers in the state, who don't have to allow the legalization of marijuana to impact their workplace. The act states:

    This act does not require an employer to permit or accommodate conduct otherwise allowed by this act in any workplace or on the employer's property.

    The business end

    Still, businesses will need to update company policies in the wake of the legalization, to explain what would be required of employees.

    Consumers Energy spokesman Roger Morgenstern said the utility company already sent an email informing employees of its policy changes.

    "We are a drug free workplace. We have a zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol," Morgenstern said. "Really, now that it's legalized we're treating it like alcohol."

    Morganstern said the utility company tests applicants for drug use. They could also drug test current employees if there's reason to suspect a policy violation. Even with the legalization of recreational marijuana, employees of the utility company may not test positive for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

    Users of medical marijuana fall under different regulations by the company, Morgenstern said; those regulations have been in place since 2008.

    "We're working on energized wires. We're working on pressurized gas pipes. We're working in some terrible conditions," Morgenstern said about company employees. "Their minds need to be sharp. They need to be focused on their work, and there's no place in our workplace for drugs or alcohol or substances like that of any kind."

    Drug testing

    Testing for alcohol and testing for tetrahydrocannabinol work differently.

    Alcohol consumption can be measured by a blood alcohol concentration, which shows the intoxication level at the time.

    Testing for tetrahydrocannabinol shows only a positive or negative result, not the level of the drug in the system. Either THC is present, or it's not. What complicates the issue is that medical studies show that THC could show up on a drug test for days to weeks after use.

    Levine said employers are required to inform employees on company policies. This could be through a variety of methods. Employers, however, can still prohibit marijuana use on the job.

    "The fact that a person may no longer in Michigan be prosecuted for marijuana does not in any way curtail an employer's right to insist his employees not smoke marijuana while they're at work," Levine said.

    Read the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act to better understand all the requirements. For more on the rights of employers, start at the bottom of page two, section four, part three.

    For more stories by Jason Puhr, follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


    Editor’s note: Consumers would like to clarify that its policy does not necessarily treat marijuana the same as alcohol, as the Consumers spokesperson originally indicated it did in an interview with Newschannel 3. The video for this story has also been removed to eliminate any confusion about the Consumers policy.

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