Rhode Island marijuana usage is now legal. What now for employers?
Gov. Dan McKee signed the bill into law in late May 2022. Possession and home-grown marijuana is now legal for adults age 21 and older. In-store sales could begin as soon as Dec. 1, 2022.
Most notably, the law bars employers from taking adverse actions against employees for off-duty use, though there are exceptions.
“This bill successfully incorporates our priorities of making sure cannabis legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe,” McKee said in a statement. “In addition, it creates a process for the automatic expungement of past cannabis convictions. My administration’s original legalization plan also included such a provision and I am thrilled that the assembly recognized the importance of this particular issue. The end result is a win for our state both socially and economically.”
The law took effect immediately. Rhode Island is now the 19th state to have legalized cannabis, joining nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Related: Legalized Marijuana in Illinois – 5 Things Employers Need to Know
Rhode Island Marijuana: Info for Employers
While off-the-job use of marijuana is protected for employees in Rhode Island, employers can still prohibit employees from using or possessing the drug at work (including those working from home).
Still, as is the case with most recreational marijuana laws that protect off-duty use, there are several exceptions under Rhode Island law, including:
- When it would conflict with federal law (federal contractors, primarily)
- When it is barred under a collective bargaining agreement
- If the employee’s job involves work that is “hazardous, dangerous or essential to public welfare and safety”
Meanwhile, for those types of jobs quoted above, employers can bar the use of marijuana in the 24-hour period before a scheduled shift. Such jobs include but are not limited to:
Operation of an aircraft, watercraft, heavy equipment, heavy machinery, commercial vehicles, school buses or public transportation; use of explosives; public safety first responder jobs; and emergency and surgical medical personnel.
Also, Rhode Island’s marijuana law does not require a showing of on-the-job impairment.
Lastly, the Rhode Island marijuana law includes automatic expungement of some prior civil or criminal marijuana possession charges. It gives courts until July 1, 2024, to automatically expunge past convictions, though those who want their expungement sooner may request it.
Related: Washington, D.C., Marijuana Hiring and Firing Law
Legalized Marijuana Laws in the U.S.
As legalized recreational marijuana continues to grow in jurisdictions across the U.S., employers have more compliance issues to consider.
While medical marijuana users are typically afforded more job protection, some states have passed laws that employers must monitor regarding recreational use:
- Protecting off-duty use
- Only allowing testing in some instances
- Making it illegal to hire an applicant based solely on a positive pre-employment test
Employers in Philadelphia and Nevada, where the laws offer more protections for workers, should take extra precautions under their employment laws regarding marijuana use.
There’s also the question of whether employers should even care about employees using marijuana.
“In states where it’s legal, they’ll tell you, ‘We can’t get good candidates if we test for marijuana,’” Melissa Osipoff, an attorney with the law firm Fisher Phillips, told the New York Times.
As always, employers should remember that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
Employers with locations in the Ocean State should review their policies and procedures to align with the new law.
Also, Rhode Island’s new marijuana law does include some ambiguity for employers, which be resolved in the courts or through potential guidance from state agencies.