Illinois marijuana law could create challenges in Iowa workplaces

Employers advised to address medical, recreational marijuana in the workplace

FILE PHOTO: Marijuana plants are displayed for sale at Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington, Nov
FILE PHOTO: Marijuana plants are displayed for sale at Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington, November 27, 2012. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante/File Photo

CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa businesses could face added workplace challenges following Illinois’ passage of a recreational marijuana law last month.

Approximately 40 people, including representatives from local employers and human resources professionals, met at the Ladd Library in Cedar Rapids Tuesday afternoon to talk about medical and recreational marijuana in the workplace. The event was co-hosted by Iowa Workforce Development and the Eastern Iowa Human Resources Association.

Under Illinois’ new law, beginning in 2020 Iowa residents can purchase up to 15 grams of marijuana in Illinois but legally cannot bring it back.

State and federal laws governing marijuana are in conflict — though 11 and 33 states have legalized recreational and medical marijuana, respectively, cannabis still is recognized as a Schedule 1 controlled substance under U.S. drug policy.

Iowa currently has no legal protections for employees who test positive for marijuana at companies with drug-free or zero tolerance policies, even if they are using medical products to control side effects from cancer treatments or epilepsy, said Wilford H. Stone, a lawyer specializing in labor and employment law with Cedar Rapids-based firm Lynch Dallas.

Illinois’ new law still allows for those policies but also requires employers to give their workers a reasonable opportunity to contest any determination of being under the influence of marijuana.

Stone said companies have an “absolute right” to control their own workplace, and each employer is different — workplace accommodations for customer service positions, for example, vary from those for “safety sensitive” positions such as police officers, teachers or pilots.


Still, he said, employers could benefit from reviewing and potentially revising their policies. This could range from flexible scheduling for users of medical products and an “interactive process” with employees who might test positive for marijuana but come in to work sober and carry out their essential job responsibilities.

“Is it any different than someone that goes out and pounds down five or six beers and then shows up the next day at work mildly hung over or sleep deprived?” Stone asked. “Those are all things that as a society we’re going to have to start thinking about.”

Also an issue in policing marijuana in the workplace, Stone said, is the lack of a reliable method, comparable to a breathalyzer test, for quantifying an employee’s level of intoxication.

Stone said some companies might have concerns about running afoul of federal drug regulations but that finding “creative solutions” could be in their best interest from a workforce standpoint.

“We have a tough time finding employees. We want to do all we can to attract and retain them,” he said. “We don’t want somebody being injured on the job or hurting somebody else, but we don’t want to disqualify people just based on a stereotype.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8366;

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.