Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Legal Marijuana and Workplace Drug Testing

Legal Marijuana and Workplace Drug Testing

Imagine you've been offered your dream job. The catch is that you must pass a pre-employment drug screening. You're concerned because you use cannabis during your off-hours to treat chronic pain. You've never come to work impaired. It's never affected your performance. Your state allows for the medical use of marijuana. Shouldn't your prospective employer respect state law?

It depends. Some legal marijuana states protect employees and applicants from discrimination. But these protections don't always apply. The following information will help you understand workplace drug testing laws in the context of off-duty, legal marijuana use.

Drug Screening and Cannabis: The Basics

Employers may choose to screen job applicants for the use of illicit substances. In fact, many employers enforce a drug-free workplace policy. But employers must inform applicants about the drug testing policy beforehand. They must also test employees equally. While you always have the right to refuse a drug test, doing so may result in not getting the job or being fired. Most employers use urinalysis to test for five or six controlled substances. This includes THC. Saliva or hair may also be tested.

THC remains detectable in urine for up to four weeks after use. This means occasional cannabis users are much more likely to test positive than those who frequently use alcohol or "hard" drugs. These types of tests are incapable of detecting real-time impairment.

When Cannabis May Be Screened, Despite State Law

Federal employment laws don't protect cannabis users. This is because federal law doesn't recognize the legality of medical and recreational marijuana. Regardless of your state's recreational and/or medical marijuana laws, employers may still take adverse action in response to a positive cannabis test. This is especially true for:

  1. Employers that contract with the federal government
  2. Employers required to maintain a "drug-free workplace" in order to secure federal funding
  3. Certain safety-sensitive positions, such as commercial drivers and heavy equipment operators

Workplace Drug Testing and Antidiscrimination Laws

Even in legal marijuana states, like California and Colorado, employees and job applicants have no legal protections for cannabis use. This is true even if a physician recommends it. But roughly a dozen states allowing the use of medical marijuana do protect employees or job applicants from discrimination in some form. But these protections don't apply to employers who comply with federal regulations.

Under Connecticut law, for example, an employer can't refuse to hire a person based on their status as a qualifying patient. Similarly, Arizona law prohibits discrimination on the basis of a medical marijuana patient's positive drug test for THC.

Other states with similar cannabis law protections include Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Nevada, and Massachusetts. Some of these laws even require employers to reasonably accommodate medical marijuana users.

Workplace Drug Testing and Recreational Use

As of June 2019, Maine and Nevada are the only states to extend employment anti-discrimination protections to recreational cannabis users in addition to qualifying medical users. The Maine law prevents an employer from refusing to employ a person 21 years or older solely because that person consumes marijuana outside of the employer's property.

Nevada's law prohibits employers from rejecting job applicants who test positive for cannabis in a pre-employment drug screening. This holds true regardless of whether the applicant uses the drug for medical or recreational purposes. As with other such laws, Nevada's statute exempts emergency medical workers, firefighters, and other positions where public safety is concerned.

New York City, meanwhile, became the first city to ban marijuana testing of job applicants in 2019. It also has the usual exceptions for safety-sensitive positions or for when federal regulations require such testing.

Confused About Legal Marijuana and Workplace Drug Testing? Call an Attorney

It's not easy to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape of state marijuana laws and federal enforcement. Depending on where you live or the nature of your job, you may not have any protections for your otherwise legally protected use of medical or recreational cannabis. If you have questions or need to file a claim, consider contacting an employment law attorney near you.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified employment attorney to make sure your privacy rights are protected.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options