Karen Kidd Apr. 30, 2016, 9:12pm

SPRINGFIELD – Some employers in Illinois are still coming to grips with legalized medical marijuana use.

From Morguefile
From Morguefile | None

But in some ways, legalized medical marijuana has resulted in little change in employer and employee policies, said Chris Lindsey, Marijuana Policy Project's legislative analyst for Illinois.

"Employer concerns should be no different with respect to medical cannabis than they are with employee use of prescription medications," Lindsey said.

Lindsey also provided four tips of what employers need to know about medical marijuana in Illinois:

- “Illinois state law does not confer any particular right on behalf of employees who are medical cannabis patients, and employer policies have been generally upheld when reviewed by courts in various medical marijuana states.”

- “Drug tests offered by employers do not detect impairment on the job, but rather the presence of marijuana metabolites in a person's system. These can show up on a test weeks after medical cannabis use - long after its effects have worn off.”

- “Because many employers have zero tolerance policies, medical cannabis patients that comply with state law are particularly vulnerable to restrictive employer policies that don't make exceptions for registered patients.”

- “Some states, including Illinois, are considering adopting laws that would provide basic protections for patients who consume (marijuana) outside work hours, unless it actually affects job performance. Most find these types of restrictions reasonable, so long as they do not compel employers to place contracts or federal services at risk.”

While medical marijuana use still, for some, feels new in Illinois, it actually is several years in the making. The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, which requires the state's Department of Agriculture to provide registration and oversight of medical cannabis cultivation centers, was signed by then-Gov. Pat Quinn on Aug. 1, 2013. The act went into effect Jan. 1, 2014.

Illinois’ medical marijuana law, one of the most restrictive in the U.S., set up a four-year experiment, at the end of which lawmakers will have to decide whether to modify, expand or restrict approved uses of marijuana. Patients also must be diagnose with at least one of 39 debilitating medical conditions listed in the act. The act also does not allow patients to grow their own marijuana.

In November, medical marijuana dispensaries in the state began providing marijuana to patients treating patients under the pilot program. Applications of almost 5,000 patients, including 33 younger than 18 years old, have been approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health since it began accepting applications for the Medical Cannabis Registry Program on Sept. 2, 2014, according to the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program website.

Recreational marijuana remains illegal in Illinois, though some lawmakers, such as state Sen. William Haine (D-Alton), are working to change that. Haines is co-sponsor of Senate Bill 2981, the Medical Cannabis-Extension, currently in the state Senate's Subcommittee on Special Issues.

Last May, the Illinois Senate and House passed a marijuana decriminalization bill to make possession of 15 grams or less a noncriminal offense subject only to a ticket and a fine or not more than $125. That bill also clarified, for the first time, the amount of THC, marijuana's intoxicating chemical, that can be in a driver's system to be considered too impaired to drive.  The governor, however, did not sign that bill.

Many employers still have concerns about employees who are prescribed this treatment. Employee drug testing is not affected by Illinois' medical marijuana law and employees still must abide by their employer's policy on marijuana, Lindsey said.

"Employees who are registered patients have no particular protections," Lindsey said. "So the rights of the employer are unaffected because of an employee's status as a patient."

What is not so clear is whether employers have a right to know if their employees are using medical marijuana.

"I am not aware of any particular right as a matter of law, either through legislation or case law," Lindsey said. "It might be possible for employers to impose such a condition on employees as a matter of policy, but I am not certain about that."

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