Client Bulletin #555

On Thursday Georgia became the 36th state, plus Washington, D.C., to legalize marijuana extracts to treat illnesses. Gov. Nathan Deal signed the "Haleigh's Hope Act," which immediately legalized the use of medical marijuana to treat eight serious medical conditions.

The law makes cannabis oil legal to treat people with epilepsy and other seizure disorders, Lou Gehrig's Disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson's disease and sickle cell anemia. The law does not permit the smoking of marijuana.

The law is named for Haleigh Cox, a girl with severe seizures whose family moved from Georgia to Colorado so that she could legally receive THC extracts for her condition.

The new law makes it legal for a patient and his or her caregiver to possess up to 20 ounces of fluid cannabis oil. The cannabis oil can contain no more than 5 percent tetrahydrocannabinoil, or THC, the psychoactive agent in pot. The new law establishes a Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis to make comprehensive recommendations regarding the potential regulation of medical cannabis.

The law has some strongly "employer-friendly" provisions, which were added to the law with the help of Constangy attorneys – who represent the Georgia Council on Drug and Alcohol – among others. The law specifically allows employers to refuse to "accommodate" an employee's use of medical cannabis oil. It also allows employers to take adverse action against both on-duty and off-duty users of medical cannabis under a drug policy. The employer-friendly language states as follows:

Nothing in this article shall require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale, or growing of marijuana in any form, or to affect the ability of an employer to have a written zero tolerance policy prohibiting the on-duty, and off-duty, use of marijuana, or prohibiting any employee from having a detectable amount of marijuana in such employee's system while at work.

Common Sense Counsel

1. Understand the laws on medical marijuana in the jurisdictions where your employees work. (Users of medical marijuana are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act because the ADA does not protect current users of illegal drugs. Marijuana is still an illegal drug under federal law. However, medical marijuana users may be protected under state or local disability discrimination, or "lawful products," laws.)

2. Adopt safety policies that address the use of legal, as well as illegal, drugs.

3. Make sure that your job descriptions make clear which jobs are safety-sensitive or have safety-sensitive components.

4. Develop a policy on reasonable accommodations that will pass muster in jurisdictions that protect the status of medical marijuana users.

5. Update your drug-free workplace policy and forms.

6. And, most importantly -- stay tuned as these laws continue to rock your employment world.

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