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Doug Kauffman Speaks to the Birmingham Business Journal about Alabama's New Medical Marijuana Law and its Implications for Local Employers

Balch & Bingham's Doug Kauffman, partner and member of the firm's Labor and Employment Practice, recently spoke with the Birmingham Business Journal about the implications of Alabama's new medical marijuana law for local employers. 

The Darren Wesley Hall "Ato" Compassion Act was signed into law on May 17 by Governor Ivey and legalized medical marijuana treatment for 16 various medical conditions. While the bill is rather 'employer-friendly,' local businesses should still be mindful of their obligations and requirements. 

Speaking to reporter Angel Coker, Doug explained that qualifying patients, caregivers and medical cannabis establishments and their staff are no longer subject to criminal or civil penalty for any actions authorized in the bill. To qualify, a patient must apply for and receive a medical cannabis card through a physician who has been authorized by the State Board of Medical Examiners and obtain their medical marijuana from a licensed, regulated dispensary.

Doug noted that the bill does not require an employer to accommodate medical cannabis. He went on to say that the law does not require employers to provide medical coverage for cannabis; it doesn't require employers to modify their drug testing policies in any way; and it also does not affect workers compensation, so if someone were injured on the job and an investigation proved medical marijuana was the cause, there would be no benefits.

"Other state laws are not that way, which leaves employers in a quandary," Doug said. "The other quandary is federal law. Currently, federal law does not allow for cannabis at all, regardless of the use. (Under) the Americans with Disabilities Act … there's no duty to accommodate it under federal law either, but that's something employers have to keep an eye on because that could shift at any moment in the federal sector."

With the new law, Doug predicts most employers, setting aside sensitive industries transportation, will treat medical marijuana like prescription medications as long as it can be justified with a medical cannabis card. "I think the dilemma for Alabama employers is not what they have to do but what they are going to do," Doug concluded.

For more than 20 years, Doug has counseled large and small employers, helping them stay up to date on the law, regulations, and best practices with respect to employment compliance. He also handles complaints or audits by various government agencies, such as the EEOC, the Department of Labor, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.