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Rhode Island Legalizes Recreational Marijuana

On May 25, 2022, Rhode Island became the 19th state to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and over. Under the law (The Rhode Island Cannabis Act), possession and home-growing of certain quantities of cannabis is now legal. The law went into effective immediately, but retail sales will not begin until December.

The law does not prevent employers from refusing to hire, discharge or discipline a person because of their violation of a workplace drug policy or for working under the influence of marijuana. Employers also are not required to accommodate marijuana use in any other locations while an employee is performing work, including while working remotely.

However, a Rhode Island employer may not fire or take disciplinary action against an employee solely because of an employee’s private, off-duty marijuana use outside of the workplace, unless:

  • Off-duty use is prohibited by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement;
  • The employer is a federal contractor or otherwise subject to federal regulations such that a failure to take action would cause the employer to lose a monetary or licensing benefit; or
  • The employee works in a job, occupation or profession that is hazardous, dangerous or essential to public welfare and safety.

In situations involving hazardous, dangerous or essential work such as operating an aircraft, heavy machinery, emergency medical personnel, employers can implement policies prohibiting the use of marijuana within the 24-hour period prior to a scheduled work shift or assignment.

The new law will also give courts until July 1, 2024, to automatically expunge past convictions for any person with a prior civil violation, misdemeanor or felony conviction for a possession of marijuana offense that has been decriminalized, and those who want their expungement sooner may request it.

Next Steps for Employers

Employers should consider carefully how the new law affects their existing drug testing procedures and hiring processes and review existing policies to ensure compliance. Specifically, employers who do not have to test for cannabis because of a state or federal statute, regulation, ordinance, or other state or federal governmental mandate may consider removing cannabis from their drug screen panels. Other marijuana testing (i.e., post-accident or reasonable suspicion) may also require more attention, and employers should review the law against their substance abuse and/or drug testing policies and make changes as needed, including deciding whether to test for marijuana at all.

Employers should remind employees of any existing prohibitions on marijuana use, possession and impairment during working hours, on employer premises and while using company equipment or other property.

It is also recommended that employers develop documentation to aid with helping managers/supervisors determine what symptoms may indicate an impairment and to ensure that the company’s practice for making this determine is applied consistently. Further, managers/supervisors should receive training on substance abuse and its interaction with applicable state laws and related company policies.

HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.