The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity posted a brief, today, pointing out some of the risks to Rhode Island employers in an environment of legalized recreational marijuana:
One South County firm has already been sued for denying employment to a legal medical marijuana user in compliance with the company’s drug-free policies. Similarly, firms in Massachusetts, California, Montana, and Washington — among others — have been burdened with similar lawsuits.
If recreational use of the drug is legalized, the constitutional crisis created by pitting employer rights against employee rights could explode, crippling companies that would have to pay exorbitant legal fees to defend their rights in court, as well as any damages they might incur from adverse rulings. Similarly, a conflict may also exist if landlords seek to ban marijuana use on their private property by their tenants.
Proponents of legalization present it as an easy matter of rights, and if it were that, the Center would probably agree with their objective. The problem is that, when once the government has interjected itself into a matter of social concern, the landscape changes.
In this particular case, we have not only the complications of having state law conflict with federal law, but also a skewed balance between employees and employers. If it were understood that employers could conduct their business and their employee relations as they saw fit, then the legalization of marijuana wouldn’t be as relevant to them. If an employee behaves in any way that the employer finds objectionable, the relationship terminates. Ditto if the employer dictates terms that the employee doesn’t like.
But that is manifestly not understood, and our state government is constantly looking for new ways to dictate employment policies to every business in the state. In that case, businesses have an interest in constraining the activities of everybody who could potentially come within range of their liability, which is everybody.