Special Report

Cannabis and the Legal Industry: New Rules, New Risks, New Opportunities

The state-by-state legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use has created a complicated legal landscape—and with it new demands for lawyers to responsibly advise cannabis clients and companies in adjacent industries. This special report features Law.com's in-depth coverage of emerging legal issues, key regulatory developments, and the lawyers who are helping to shape a new industry.

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Denise Elliott. McNees Wallace & Nurick Denise Elliott. McNees Wallace & Nurick

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, known as the California Compassionate Use Act, making California the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. In the succeeding 13 years, 32 states followed with full legalization for medicinal purposes, and 14 states passed laws allowing for low THC/high CBD forms of medical marijuana. Today, only three states (Idaho, South Dakota and Nebraska) prohibit all forms of medical marijuana. As an employment law attorney representing companies, when my clients call with questions about medical marijuana, they want to know how it affects their drug testing and safety policies and what accommodations, if any, they have to make for employees who are using medical marijuana. With the majority of the United States on board with medicinal cannabis use and 13 years of progressive legalization, one would think that we would have clear guidance on these topics. Well, one would be wrong. The legal landscape for employers grappling with the impact of medical marijuana on their workplaces remains quite hazy (pun intended).

The first layer of haze is created by the federal treatment of medical marijuana. Despite broad legalization across the country, cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which ironically means it has no medical use. Moreover, because federal regulations often govern how drug tests are performed and verified, medical use of marijuana (even in the states where it is legal) does not constitute a legitimate medical reason for testing positive for cannabis metabolites. What does this mean? The medical marijuana user who tests positive for cannabis will have his test certified as positive, despite his status as a legal user under state law. Conversely, the Adderall user who tests positive for amphetamines will have his test certified as negative as long as he can produce his prescription!

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