Arthur Yermash: Employees can game the medical marijuana system. PHOTO: Bob Giglione/LIBN
Arthur Yermash: Employees can game the medical marijuana system. PHOTO: Bob Giglione/LIBN
Now that New York has authorized five “registered organizations” to operate as many as 20 medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state, employers are scrambling to establish new best practices concerning card-carrying employees.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday signed a bill legalizing a restricted amount of medical marijuana for certified patients diagnosed with one (or more) of 10 medical conditions, a move intended to relieve pain and suffering for victims of Parkinson’s disease, cancer and other ailments.

Users cannot legally smoke their pot; instead, they’re required to vaporize it or ingest it orally as a pill or oil. New York is the 23rd state to legalize the use of medical marijuana, but of those states only Minnesota restricts patients from smoking it.

The legislation also stipulates that certified patients will be considered “disabled” under the state’s human rights laws, which protect job-holders from employment discrimination. And that, according to attorney Arthur Yermash of Ronkonkoma law firm Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, “creates a whole other area and expands discrimination so that an employee can possibly take advantage of an employer when they don’t have a true claim.”

That’s one of several new standards employers – and their legal teams – are closely monitoring. Yermash, senior associate of his firm’s corporate and labor departments, said the state’s decision to designate medical marijuana users as disabled workers could lead to confusion for the courts, which will be seeking guidance from courts in other states that have been “all over the place” when establishing enforcement measures.

Among the gray-area concerns for employers: Employees aren’t required to disclose the fact that they’re medical marijuana card-carriers, and the line between the new permission and federal laws monitoring employees’ abilities to safely perform duties – based on drug-free, zero-tolerance workplaces – is hazy at best.

To combat the confusion, some attorneys are recommending employers establish reasonable accommodations designed to avoid adverse employee confrontations.

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