What Washington State Marijuana Legalization Means for Washington Employers

When the topic of marijuana is brought up at the workplace, there is “gray area” pertaining to what is the right stance to take as a company and how to enforce company policy. Currently, the line is blurred due to the difference in Washington state law that provides legal permission to possess certain amounts of marijuana in different carrying forms (plant, baked goods, etc.) versus federal law that considers any marijuana possession illegal. How do these differences affect employers and the actions of employees in and around the workplace?

Keeping in mind that the Washington law is a voter-approved bill, it is good to remember that there are many different perspectives employers should consider when evaluating policy next steps. Below, I explore some thoughts that were shared by business leaders at an open forum that I recently attended:

  • See this time as a great opportunity to update your employee handbook but keep in mind that there is no one-step, fix-all policy. Take the time to listen to your employees and increase engagement in the workplace.
  • If your current drug policy is “We have a drug-free workplace,” think about what this actually means for your specific company and invest in creating the type of workplace that is safe and productive for all of your employees.
  • If your company is accepting any government grants or on any federally funded projects, you may need to reinforce that your company is in line with all federal laws.
  • Consider how you define “impairment” and what your job performance expectations are. These are key in developing a solid and accountable drug policy and in turn, a solid and accountable workforce.

With this discrepancy between federal law and state law, everyone is concerned about how the federal government is going to react to marijuana being legal for recreational use in certain states. So far, the federal government is not taking any action against this bill passing. As an HR professional, I believe employers should consider what is the best policy to have in a professional environment and how to practice that policy. Employers and employees all need to work together to determine how the company is going to move forward through marijuana legalization in the state of Washington.

What actions have you or are you considering at your company?

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