LIMA — Medical marijuana became legal in Ohio on Thursday. While it could take years before patients can legally purchase the drug, some local businesses are already discussing how the new law could affect their current substance abuse policy.
House Bill 523, the new law that legalizes marijuana for medical use, contains provisions that allow employers to choose whether or not to recognize marijuana as a legally prescribed drug. Since marijuana is still considered illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, employers are not required to accommodate an employee’s medical marijuana use.
The law is written so that employers, not the state or federal government, can decide if they want to recognize the drug in the same way they would other prescriptions, such as pain pills.
“I think that, at least with our interpretation of the law at this point, it (medical marijuana) would be considered a legal prescription,” said Denise Kiraly, director of human resources and organizational development at Lima Memorial Health System. “So, our policy would say that if someone is under the influence of a legal prescription, we would take it on a case- by-case basis to determine if that individual was impaired or could safely work.”
Todd Sutton, general manager of PotashCorp, said that business may also make these determinations on a case-by-case basis, as long as the employee disclosed the fact that he or she is prescribed marijuana. However, Sutton said he is still unsure if Potash would adjust its drug policy to accommodate medical marijuana patients.
“We’re looking at it to see whether or not we would change it to that of a normal prescription, but at this point we have not decided to do that,” Sutton said. “At this point, it is still a prohibited substance per our substance abuse policy.”
Officials from St. Rita’s Medical Center declined an interview for this story but sent a prepared statement.
“It is too soon to speculate on how this may impact our healthcare ministry,” according to the statement. “We are watching this issue closely and working with ethics and religious experts and our clinical leaders to prepare for a variety of scenarios.”
Though Kiraly said Lima Memorial will likely consider medical marijuana a prescription drug in the future, she said there will be no change to the hospital’s current drug policy, at least for the foreseeable future.
“At this point we feel comfortable with our current policy, based on our interpretation of the law,” she said. “But we will still review our policies to try to establish clear guidelines, and we’ll have a myriad of discussions at the administrative level and with the medical community, as well as seek legal opinions.
“We’ll make a decision about whether or not it (drug policy) will change as the best information becomes available to us.”
For now, employers retain the right to fire an employee based on his or her use, possession or distribution of medical marijuana. The law specifically states that it does not authorize employees to sue an employer for “adverse employment action related to medical marijuana,” such as termination of employment.
The law further states that an employer has “just cause” to terminate an employee for his or her medical marijuana use, as long as it violated the company’s drug policy.
Sutton and Kiraly said their companies do not currently have a zero-tolerance drug policy, and the legalization of medical marijuana would not affect this position. An employee who tests positive for marijuana, legal or illegal, would have the option to attend a rehabilitation program instead of being fired.
“Unless it was very egregious, a repeat offense or they refused any type of program, we would try to help them with the situation,” Sutton said. “We try to help individuals with the issue so we can move on and still have a good working relationship.”
Sutton and Kiraly also agreed that, while their companies are happy with their current drug policy, Lima Memorial and Potash will continue to study the law and adjust company policy if necessary.
“We have not modified our drug policy at this point, and we don’t know if we will,” Sutton said. “There’s still a lot of ambiguity and a lot more research to be done, so we won’t make a decision until we still how it ends up being managed.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima