Medical marijuana law and its potential implications for employers

In November 2012, Massachusetts voters approved, by popular ballot, medical marijuana use effective January 1, 2013. The law allows patients with certain medical conditions to use medical marijuana. Administrative rules are due from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) by May, which may help clarify issues for employers… so stay tuned. But in the meantime, this article from HR provides information on current requirements. 

Qualifying medical conditions include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotropic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other debilitating conditions. Medical marijuana users must obtain written certification of the condition from a physician. Eventually, registration cards will replace doctors’ notes, but at this time, a written note suffices. Nothing in the law requires health insurance providers to cover medical marijuana treatment.

The law states that a qualifying person “shall not be penalized under Massachusetts law in any manner, or denied any right or privilege” for medical marijuana use. The law does include two significant exclusions, however. It does not apply to “the operation of a motor vehicle, boat, or aircraft while under the influence of marijuana.” In addition, it does not require “any accommodation of any on-site medical use of marijuana in any place of employment.” Unfortunately, it is silent on the distinction between “use” and being under the influence, leaving a broad area of uncertainty for employers.

While awaiting clarification from the DPH, Massachusetts employers should review drug testing and substance abuse and disability policies and ensure that they reflect the rights of qualified medical marijuana users under the law.  For additional information, contact Beverly Purtell, senior vice president, Human Resource Management at