Last week, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that employers are not required to accommodate the use of medical marijuana in the workplace. A great summary of the facts and reasoning behind the decision can be found here. The bottom-line is that marijuana, despite being legalized for medicinal uses in a number of states is still considered an illegal drug under federal law, and employers are not required to accommodate its use.

In 2008, the California Supreme Court went one step further by ruling that employers are not obligated to accommodate the use of medical marijuana off-site. The ruling wasn’t available on

the California Supreme Court website anymore, but you can read a summary here.


What does this mean for Iowa employers? For now, nothing. But the legalization of marijuana for medical use has recently been creating a stir in Iowa.  In March of this year the Iowa Board of Pharmacy recommended that marijuana be legalized for the purpose of medicinal uses. They plan to propose legislation to the Iowa Legislature during the 2011 session. If the legislation passes, which some predict will happen, what does this mean for employers with a zero drug tolerance policy? Will accommodations need to be made for employees who consume marijuana off-site or on-site?


The California and Oregon rulings are only the “law of the land” in California and Oregon.   Those rulings will not be definitive for any situations that may arise in Iowa. In fact, other states with medical marijuana statutes have implicit or explicit protections for employees written into the statute. Any decisions under those statutes will likely be different than the California and Oregon rulings. Clearly, the language of any law passed by the Iowa legislature will be important in determining an employer’s obligation with respect to employees who use marijuana for medicinal purposes.


Even though no Iowa law exists currently, employers should be cognizant that any law passed legalizing medical marijuana use may have major implications on current employment policies. Employers should be ready to implement new policies and address the situation when/if the legislature passes a law legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. Such policy amendments may be required by the implicit or explicit language of the statute or be based on an employer’s individual decision relating to its employee’s medicinal use of marijuana.  Change may be coming and employers need to be prepared.