Georgia Legalizes Medical Marijuana Without Employment Protections

By Dale L. Deitchler

With the enactment of “Haleigh’s Hope Act” last week, Georgia became the 26th jurisdiction to decriminalize medical marijuana use.

The Act, which became effectively immediately upon signature by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, legalizes such use under Georgia law in connection with nine specified medical conditions, including end-stage cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s, and sickle cell disease.

No employment protections

The Act does not establish employment protections for medical marijuana use. In fact, in contrast to legislation in other states such as Arizona, Delaware, Minnesota and New York that limit employer action, Georgia’s law takes a very employer-favorable approach. Specifically, the measure allows employers to prohibit on-duty and off-duty use and to take adverse action on the basis of a positive test result:

Nothing in [the Act] shall require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale, or growing of marijuana in any form, or to affect the ability of an employer to have a written zero tolerance policy prohibiting the on-duty, and off-duty, use of marijuana, or prohibiting any employee from having a detectable amount of marijuana in such employee’s system while at work.”

Employer takeaways

This does not mean Georgia employers can forego legal obligations to engage in an interactive dialogue with employees who are medical marijuana users under Georgia’s law and where possible reasonably accommodate employees with respect to underlying medical conditions.

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Satisfying that obligation will in part require employers to work with testing vendors as to how positive marijuana results caused by medical marijuana use will be reported by medical review officers, what information beyond the result will be reported if any, and what if any authorizations employers will need to obtain information beyond results.

Additionally, Georgia employers should review workplace drug testing policies to ensure inclusion of carefully worded definitions of illegal drugs. Policy review would also be prudent to avoid reference to prescription drug language that could broadly be interpreted as contradicting any zero tolerance substance abuse and testing policy.

This was originally published on Littler Mendelson’s Workplace Privacy Counsel blog. © 2015 Littler Mendelson. All Rights Reserved. Littler®, Employment & Labor Law Solutions Worldwide® and ASAP® are registered trademarks of Littler Mendelson, P.C.

Dale L. Deitchler is a Shareholder in the Minneapolis office of the law firm Littler Mendelson. He represents management in all phases of labor law, labor relations and standards, including labor negotiations, arbitrations, unfair labor practice proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board, and minimum wage and overtime proceedings before the Employment Standards Administration's Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor. Renowned for his knowledge on drug and alcohol testing, Dale also has extensive knowledge of both federal and state Department of Transportation policies and regulations. Contact him at


4 Comments on “Georgia Legalizes Medical Marijuana Without Employment Protections

  1. If the bill legalizes marijuana for medicinal purposes, then the courts could very well rule that the Americans with Disabilities Act necessitates that employers allow it.

    If not based on the ADA (federal law), I’m sure Georgia has their own version of the ADA in state law.

    1. I’m not sure that would fly. Marijuana is not FDA approved to treat any disease, so even if the state legalizes it, you may have a difficult time finding a court that will require an employer to allow it. Furthermore, it is still a violation of federal law to use it.

      Marinol, the TCH derivative from MJ is legal in all 50 states, however.

      The main reason the FDA cannot test marijuana (under current rules) is that there is no way to control the dosage of active ingredients in a cigarette form. That’s why TCH extracted and put in pill form can be legal, but a marijuana cigarette will likely never be FDA approved.

  2. The article doesn’t mention whether the State has legalized Cannabis, or just cannabis products, such as CBD Oil.

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