Small businesses grapple with maze of conflicting pot laws d cypha electricity

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WASHINGTON — A low unemployment rate and the spreading legalization of marijuana have led many businesses to rethink their drug testing policies for the first time in decades. A small but increasing number are simply no longer testing for pot.

For small businesses, however, how to handle these challenges may be a tougher call than for bigger corporations. There is a bewildering patchwork of state laws regarding medical and recreational marijuana use. And it’s still illegal under federal law. Yet smaller companies don’t have extensive HR and legal departments to help them sort through it all.

“There is a lot of conflict there, and many employers, they just don’t know what to do,” said Kathryn Russo, a lawyer at Melville, New York-based firm Jackson Lewis. Recreational marijuana use is legal in nine states plus Washington, D.C., and medical marijuana is legal in 29 states.

Employment lawyers say these cases are the easy ones. If your business is regulated by the federal Department of Transportation or is a defense contractor, you are likely legally required to drug test for all drugs illegal at the federal level, including marijuana. Similarly, if a job raises safety concerns — such as a forklift driver, an operator of heavy factory equipment, or a meat slicer — it’s in the best interests of the employer to still test for pot, even if it is legal in your state.

But three court cases in the past year have sided with employees, forcing companies in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island to reinstate workers with medical marijuana cards who were fired, or whose job offers were rescinded, because they tested positive.

In roughly a dozen states, medical marijuana users are protected to some degree from employment discrimination, Russo said. Yet the state laws around the issue are “all different,” she said. In Arizona and Pennsylvania, for example, state law explicitly allows employers to bar medical pot users from safety-sensitive positions, Russo said. Other states don’t have clear rules.

FILE – In this June 28, 2017, file photo, marijuana plants grow at the Desert Grown Farms cultivation facility in Las Vegas. Many employers across the country are quietly taking what once would have been a radical step: They’re dropping marijuana from the drug tests they require of prospective employees. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A low unemployment rate and the spreading legalization of marijuana have led many businesses to rethink their drug testing policies for the first time in decades. A small but increasing number are simply no longer testing for pot.

For small businesses, however, how to handle these challenges may be a tougher call than for bigger corporations. There is a bewildering patchwork of state laws regarding medical and recreational marijuana use. And it’s still illegal under federal law. Yet smaller companies don’t have extensive HR and legal departments to help them sort through it all.

“There is a lot of conflict there, and many employers, they just don’t know what to do,” said Kathryn Russo, a lawyer at Melville, New York-based firm Jackson Lewis. Recreational marijuana use is legal in nine states plus Washington, D.C., and medical marijuana is legal in 29 states.

Employment lawyers say these cases are the easy ones. If your business is regulated by the federal Department of Transportation or is a defense contractor, you are likely legally required to drug test for all drugs illegal at the federal level, including marijuana. Similarly, if a job raises safety concerns — such as a forklift driver, an operator of heavy factory equipment, or a meat slicer — it’s in the best interests of the employer to still test for pot, even if it is legal in your state.

But three court cases in the past year have sided with employees, forcing companies in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island to reinstate workers with medical marijuana cards who were fired, or whose job offers were rescinded, because they tested positive.

In roughly a dozen states, medical marijuana users are protected to some degree from employment discrimination, Russo said. Yet the state laws around the issue are “all different,” she said. In Arizona and Pennsylvania, for example, state law explicitly allows employers to bar medical pot users from safety-sensitive positions, Russo said. Other states don’t have clear rules.