After long campaigning  and no small amount of controversy, the Australian government have legalized the use of medical marijuana . Many have welcomed this move, seeing it as a positive step towards greater health, wellbeing, and freedom for the Australian populace. Others are not so happy. On a practical level, however, how do the new marijuana laws affect your business? Are employees now allowed to use marijuana at work? What is the position of an employer or a business who finds an employee using marijuana?
EFFECTS OF MARIJUANA UPON WORK
Anything which affects one’s state of mind or concentration can alter one’s work capabilities . Like it or loathe it, marijuana does have an undeniable effect upon one’s state of mind . The extent to which this alters one’s work capabilities, however, depends greatly upon the type of work being done. While marijuana affects different people in different ways, common effects include a sense of wellbeing, a loss of inhibition, reduced co-ordination, drowsiness, altered perceptions, and paranoia. It is clearly not advisable for someone under the influence of marijuana to be doing things like using heavy machinery or driving goods vehicles. However, someone who works as an ‘ideas person’ may find their performance mildly improved by marijuana. One must not forget, after all, that the use of caffeine also brings with it many mind-altering properties, and it’s a rare person indeed who can be abstinent from coffee!
THE LEGAL POSITION
While it is now legal to grow and use medicinal marijuana, Australia’s drug laws remain as strict as ever. Medicinal marijuana is going to be very tightly controlled . Anyone using marijuana or a substance derived from marijuana for recreational purposes is still very much breaking the law, and will be subject to all the penalties that entails. Furthermore, any company whose employees are found to be under the influence of recreational marijuana may be liable  under the Occupational Health and Safety laws of Australia should any negative outcomes occur as a result of their actions. This is one of the reasons behind many companies introducing drug testing into their operations . In order to be using marijuana legally at work (or to be experiencing its effects while at work), your employees will require a valid prescription from a doctor, and to have obtained the marijuana from a licensed and governmentally approved source. Otherwise, they get the book thrown at them, and any employer would be advised to put as much legal distance as possible between themselves and their stoned employee!
WHO GETS A PRESCRIPTION?
The precise legal frameworks regulating the growth, processing, and distribution of legal medical marijuana have not yet been put in place. However, it is likely that medical marijuana will be prescribed to those living with chronic and prolonged conditions. Marijuana has been proved useful in the treatment of a variety of conditions, including muscular spasms, chronic pain, nausea (such as that experienced during chemotherapy), epilepsy, rheumatoid conditions, and many more. It gives undoubted relief from the symptoms of such diseases, and many Australian medical authorities are consequently pleased at its legalization. It won’t be issued as a smokable substance, and, in the prescribed format, it is unlikely to give the ‘high’ experienced by recreational users. Some companies are working on administering the product via a nasal spray . Such sprays (and any other prescribed cannabinoids) will be considered restricted medications, subject to the same controls as drugs like morphine. As such, a responsible employee should inform their employer if they have been prescribed medical marijuana.
Post written by Anne Farthing (March 2016)
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 Simon Thomsen, “Medical marijuana is now legal in Australia”, Business Insider Australia, Feb 2016
 Rita Milios, “Buzzed at Work: The Effects of Alcohol and Drug Use on Workplace Performance”, Recovery.org, Oct 2015
 Better Health Channel, “Cannabis (marijuana)”
 Chris Jager, “Australia (Sort Of) Legalizes Marijuana: What You Need To Know”, Lifehacker Australia, Feb 2016
 New South Wales Government, “Alcohol And Other Drugs In The Workplace: Guide To Developing A Workplace Alcohol And Other Drugs Policy”, 2006
 Janie Smith, “Workplace drug testing: What you need to know”, HC Online, Jun 2014
 Harry Tucker, “This is what medical marijuana could look like in Australia”, Business Insider Australia, Mar 2016