Larkin Hoffman: Navigating the Legalization of Marijuana: Update Your Drug and Alcohol Testing Policies

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On August 1, 2023, recreational marijuana and cannabis products became legal in the state of Minnesota. Employers are now asking how this new law affects their employment policies and procedures. In the first of a two-part series of blog posts on how the legalization of marijuana affects drug and alcohol polices, we address whether employers need to modify their drug and alcohol testing policies in light of this significant change in the law. Here are some things to consider in changing existing testing policies and procedures.

Understanding the Law

Employers are concerned that employees are now allowed to come to work stoned. In fact, the opposite is true. The Minnesota Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act (“the Act”) has always prohibited impairment in the workplace, and that has not changed. Under the law, an employer is not required to permit or accommodate cannabis use, possession, impairment, sale, or transfer while an employee is working or while an employee is on the employer’s premises or operating the employer’s vehicle, machinery, or equipment. Although an employer is not permitted to restrict an employee’s lawful off-duty use of cannabis, Minnesota law does not require that employers accommodate or permit an employee’s on-the-job possession or use. Consequently, drug and alcohol policies should include a provision explicitly prohibiting the use of cannabis, drugs and alcohol while working, operating company vehicles or on company premises.

Review Your Drug and Alcohol Testing Policy

The first step in modifying an existing drug and alcohol testing policy is to review the portion of the policy which prohibits the use of drugs (and alcohol) while working. With certain exceptions, which will be discussed below, the Act removes marijuana and cannabis products from the definition of “drug” for purposes of drug testing, and the substance is now considered separate from drugs and alcohol. Therefore, the definition of “drug” in the policy should no longer include cannabis; nor should it be so broad that it encompasses personal use of the substance off-premises during nonworking hours. Drug and alcohol testing policies should add cannabis to the provision prohibiting the use of drugs and alcohol while working, operating company vehicles or on company premises (e.g. “The Employer prohibits the use, possession, impairment, sale, or transfer of cannabis, drugs, and alcohol…”).

When is Drug Testing Allowed?

It is permissible to test for cannabis under the new law under certain scenarios, most of which will be familiar to employers with existing drug and alcohol testing policies. Employees may be subject to random testing for cannabis while working in safety-sensitive positions. Employees may also be tested when there is reasonable suspicion that they:

  1. Are under the influence of cannabis or other drugs;
  2. have violated the employer’s written work rules prohibiting the use, possession, sale, or transfer of cannabis, drugs, or alcohol;
  3. have sustained (or caused another to sustain) a personal injury; or
  4. have caused a work-related accident or were operating or helping to operate machinery, equipment, or vehicles involved in a work-related accident.

Employees may also be tested during the post-treatment period (up to two years, depending upon the employer’s policy). Despite the fact that employers may still test under these circumstances, many drug and alcohol testing policies will nevertheless need to be amended because they have defined prohibited drugs to be those governed by the federal Controlled Substances Act, and while cannabis is a prohibited controlled substance under federal law, it is not a prohibited substance under Minnesota law.

Under most circumstances, testing applicants for cannabis is no longer permissible, and the detection of marijuana in a drug test cannot be used as a reason for rescinding a job offer. However, for the following specific positions, applicants may continue to be tested for cannabis:

  • Safety sensitive positions (jobs where impairment caused by cannabis usage would threaten the health and safety of any individual)
  • Peace officers and firefighters
  • Positions requiring face-to-face care, training, education, supervision, counseling, consultation, or medical assistance to children, vulnerable adults, or patients receiving medical, psychiatric, or mental health care services
  • Positions requiring a commercial driver’s license or operating a motor vehicle for which state or federal law mandates drug or alcohol testing
  • Employment funded by a federal grant or any other position for which state or federal law requires testing a job applicant or employee for cannabis

Additionally, the employee protections for the use of marijuana as described above do not apply to all employees. There are exclusions when the specific work being performed requires that employees and job applicants undergo drug and alcohol testing or cannabis testing where:

  • Federal regulations preempt state regulations regarding drug and alcohol testing or cannabis testing for specific employees and job applicants;
  • Federal regulations or requirements are necessary for operating facilities under federal regulation;
  • Drug and alcohol testing or cannabis testing is conducted pursuant to federal contracts for security, safety, or protection of sensitive or proprietary data; or
  • State agency rules adopt federal regulations applicable to the interstate component of a federally regulated industry and the adoption of those rules is for the purpose of conforming the non-federally regulated intrastate component of the industry.


Considering marijuana’s lingering presence in the bloodstream, some employers might forgo testing altogether. However, those employing workers in safety-sensitive positions are likely to have a different perspective, since an employee coming to work under the influence could cause serious accidents, injury and even death to themselves or others. One thing is certain—all employers must reconsider their drug and alcohol testing policies to account for the legalization of recreational marijuana and cannabis products.

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