In August 2013, Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois signed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act into law. The Act then took effect in January 2014. The Act essentially legalizes the use and sale of medical marijuana in the state of Illinois. However, the Act is much more restrictive than other states that are following this same trend. In fact, the Act has yet to create any real changes because the three state agencies that organize the cultivation and dispensary of cannabis—the Department of Public Health, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Financial and Professional Regulations—have until May to propose rules regulating those activities.
The program limits the use of the medical marijuana to 33 diseases, a list that the Department of Public Health can add to or adjust if needed. Those who have already had a felony for the possession of marijuana may not be able to obtain a prescription, even if they have one of the 33 listed diseases. Patients in the program cannot be arrested or prosecuted by the State of Illinois for their marijuana use. Further, the law does not allow discrimination against those who are in the program, from organ transplants to landlord–tenant relationships, to some child custody situations.
A serious issue may arise for patients in the workplace, however. The Act protects against discrimination regarding hiring employees, unless federal law restricts their drug policies in hiring, but the protection does not reach far beyond the hiring process. Employers also have the right to refuse to have the medical marijuana in the workplace and can send employees home if they show up to work impaired. However, employees cannot be discriminated against in the workplace just for saying or having their medical marijuana card.
Where some employers have zero-tolerance drug policies, they can continue to enforce those policies. As a result, employees who become medical marijuana patients could potentially lose their existing job for violating the employer’s zero-tolerance drug policy. So, while new employees are protected in their job search, those who hold current positions may face serious negative consequences. Of course, the individual employer will determine whether to enforce their drug policy, but for larger businesses that span states that do not have medical marijuana laws, the employer may not have much discretion on whether to terminate an employee who violates the zero-tolerance policy.
Employers will hopefully re-evaluate their drug policies, but the new law does not require them to do so. Employees who are considering whether to be a part of the program should research their employer’s drug policies so they are aware of all of the potential consequences. If you’d like more information about how this law could affect you, contact McCarthy, Callas & Feeney at 309-788-2800. We are happy to address your legal questions.