What medical marijuana could mean for Pennsylvania businesses

Marijuana has a real shot at becoming a recognized medical remedy in Pennsylvania, especially with the bipartisan support behind pending legislation that would legalize, license and regulate its prescription use.

There are two pieces of legislation dealing with medical marijuana legalization: Senate Bill 1182 and House Bill 2182.

At Scaringi Law, where I focus my practice on employment law, civil litigation and workers' compensation, I'm hearing concerns from employers who envision a nightmare scenario of employees being high on the job ─ or even lighting up during the workday.

I assure you, this vision of a marijuana-fueled entrepreneurial apocalypse is grossly exaggerated. But should medical marijuana legislation become law, there would be some effect on the workplace.

What follows are some of the impacts I envision for employers and for the businesses that could grow like a weed around medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana and the workplace

It's a safe bet that before the first marijuana prescription is written, Pennsylvania will have rules, regulations and a licensing apparatus in place to properly control medical distribution.

At Scaringi Law, we believe the state would handle medical marijuana by creating an agency similar to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which oversees the sale of alcohol.

This would make it likely that very few employees would have access to legal medical marijuana. Only those with valid prescriptions from a doctor addressing a legitimate medical need would gain access. That's not to say there won't be cases of abuse. But the same could be said of prescription painkillers and the misuse of other legal medications.

Legalized medical marijuana would mean, however, that some company policies might need to change, but only modestly. Companies that drug-test their employees, for example, would have to make some allowances.

In regulating employees' use of medical marijuana, employers should base their evaluations on each employee's individual performance. If it can be shown that the worker's ability to function on the job is compromised, then action might need to be taken. But this should be handled in the same manner as concerns about an employee's use of any other legally obtained prescription medication.

As for the idea of workers lighting up on the job, medical marijuana is often provided in pill form or as an edible product, along with recommended doses, as with any other drug. Additionally, the part of the plant with the most medical benefit is often refined and extracted, which minimizes any "high'' or energy-depleting side effects.

One facet that employers might not have to worry about regarding medical marijuana is the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. The ability to force employers under federal law to allow the use of medical marijuana is unlikely since the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I illegal substance.

The bottom line: With the right workplace policies, clear communication and proper oversight, medical marijuana can be effectively handled by most employers. And their workplaces can remain as productive and safe as ever.

The business of medical marijuana

Workplace issues aside for the moment, the likely legalization of medical marijuana promises to create a whole new industry in the commonwealth.

As I mentioned above, our firm believes legalization would be controlled by a state agency similar to the PLCB. There would be licensee applications, license reviews and revocations, along with monitoring and enforcement at each level of the medical marijuana food chain - from the grower and the processor right up to the apparatus to prescribe and distribute the drug.

At Scaringi Law, where we have a thriving practice representing Pennsylvania liquor license cases, we're ready to serve clients who wish to enter this new industry as soon as it is legalized in the state.

It's important to keep in mind, however, that federal law still views all marijuana use as illegal. That means as a business venture, investing in medical marijuana - even if it becomes legal under Pennsylvania law - will still carry a risk.

Yet it would be a risk that could be successfully navigated and managed with the right legal representation, regulatory compliance and business strategy.


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