Recreational marijuana possession and usage officially became legal in New York state on March 31, 2021. Marijuana legalization was a groundbreaking move by the New York state government and governor Andrew Cuomo. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) bill was first introduced in 2013 and it had been an eight-year-long process to officially legalize the plant. 

Most businesses require their employees to take a drug test before making a job offer. These drug tests screen for illegal drugs, including marijuana, in the employee’s system. The results of the drug test will often determine if the potential employee will get the job or not. 

New Yorkers may now use legal cannabis. Does this mean businesses still have the right to conduct marijuana drug testing? 

Probably not, and pre-employment drug testing has been outlawed in New York City since 2020. 

Even before official marijuana legalization in New York, New York City banned pre-work marijuana drug tests in May 2020. 

Section 201-D of the newly updated New York Labor Law asserts that employers can take action against a marijuana-using employee if they violate a few rules. These provisions essentially say that an employer can terminate an employee if they seem to be impaired by the use of cannabis while working or are already in trouble with the law. 

This section of the law does not mention failed drug tests as a reason an employer can take disciplinary action out on an employee, suggesting that a failed marijuana drug test cannot be the only reason that an employee is fired or not hired.

The verdict: employees, when off the clock, are now under the protection of the MRTA

Employees nationwide have the right to consume alcohol and smoke tobacco while not on the job. Marijuana laws vary from state to state, and the state of New York, along with 16 others, has legalized recreational weed. New York Labor Law protects the use of marijuana by off-duty employees, just as they would alcohol and tobacco. 

However, an employee is under the protection of the MRTA if he or she is using weed while working. Drug testing during employment is trickier now. Employers should seek to observe employees personally instead. They can then choose to discipline or terminate actively working employees if they notice visible symptoms of marijuana intoxication. 

The impact on medical marijuana users in New York is also significant.

Medical marijuana, unlike recreational marijuana, has been legal in New York since 2016. Patients must have some type of ailment or disease to obtain a cannabis prescription from a doctor. The legalization of recreational marijuana expands the medical marijuana program. Now, patients with a medical marijuana prescription are considered “certified patients” and have an official disability. 

This will have a considerable impact on employers who will have to accommodate certified patients because of a disability. Despite this ruling, there is no reason for an employer to permit his employee to use marijuana while working. 

What’s next? 

This is quite a recent development for the state of New York and some specific procedures and rules are still in development. Recreational marijuana laws around the country are also complex and relatively new. Both employers and employees around the country find themselves in uncharted territory. 

Situations involving marijuana in the workplace are unique in every company. Employees should learn the specific recreational marijuana rules at the company where they currently work. New York is a recent state to legalize recreational cannabis, and other states are not far behind in legalization. 

Soteria Screening keeps citizens up to date with laws on marijuana. Our laboratories also help coordinate employee drug tests for your company. 

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