It’s Time to Implement Your Medical Marijuana Policy

Author: Amy L. Dilday

downloadWith thirty-three states and the District of Columbia having passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form, it’s time for hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities to create, finalize, and put their medical marijuana policies into effect. Eleven states have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use. In twenty-two additional states, marijuana use is limited to treating certain medical conditions, usually delineated as “serious” or “debilitating.” Even though the federal Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as an illegal, “Schedule I” drug, health care facilities should have marijuana policies in place to inform their communities of their position and to provide direction for persons who qualify for medical marijuana use.

The need for a marijuana policy is two-fold. First, it is important to address how your organization will handle employees who qualify for medical marijuana use. Safe and competent care of patients and elderly or disabled residents is a primary goal. As such, even if an employee is certified for medical marijuana use, he or she should not be permitted to provide care while intoxicated. Your employee policy should reflect the extent to which your organization permits or prohibits marijuana, or its use, in the workplace. Some state marijuana statutes expressly grant employers the right to maintain drug free workplaces under state or federal law. Other state statutes allow employers to prohibit employees from performing certain duties while under the influence of marijuana. Under these statutes, prohibiting employees from performing those duties is not deemed to be an adverse employment decision, even if it results in financial harm to the employee. Before finalizing your employment policy on medical marijuana, check with the statute in your state and with a lawyer specializing in employment law to ensure that your policy complies with state law and clearly states your facility’s position on marijuana in the workplace.

Second, marijuana policies are important to inform patients and residents, who qualify for medical marijuana use, whether they can use it in your facility. Hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities are regulated by both state and federal agencies. Although some federal agencies are relaxing their enforcement of the federal ban on the use and possession of marijuana in some circumstances, it remains illegal under federal law. Because federal regulations require health care facilities to be in compliance with federal law, facilities should have the option to “just say no” when qualified patients or residents want to use marijuana on their premises. Nevertheless, some nursing homes and hospitals in marijuana-legal states have implemented policies that permit their patients and residents to use doctor-recommended marijuana while keeping their staff out of the process. Usually these policies rely on state certified medical marijuana caregivers or the patients and residents themselves to handle and administer the marijuana.

Medical marijuana use is gaining acceptance throughout the nation. Whether your facility chooses to permit patients to residents to use it, or chooses to entirely forbid marijuana use on the property, the policy should be clear, in writing, and presented to the patient or resident before admission.