My teenagers thought that the new Maryland law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana meant that smoking pot was now legal.  I’m sure many people have that misconception.  Sadly for them, and for my kids, that is not correct.

This legislation, which takes effect on October 1, 2014, decriminalizes the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana, and instead makes it a civil offense.  Let me clarify: it’s still illegal.  So instead of criminal prosecution and jail time, offenders will be cited for a violation.  Like a speeding ticket (I know we all speed, or most of us do, and we’re all breaking the law when we do).  The offenders could pay the fine or request a trial.  If the offender is under 21 or if it’s a third offense, the offender must go to trial.  At trial, if found guilty, the offender would have to pay a fine.  And if the offender is under 21 or it’s a third offense, the court will refer them for substance abuse education, assessment for a substance abuse disorder, and, if necessary, treatment.   But, again like a speeding ticket, this is not considered a criminal conviction.  The fines escalate with subsequent violations – the first violation is up to $100, the second is up to $250, and three or more is up to $500.

So for employers, the law does not affect their ability to enforce drug-free and drug-testing policies in the workplace.  Employees do not have any legal right to smoke pot under this law, even on their own time.  Employers can still prohibit employees from using pot and test them for marijuana use, and employers can fire them if their pot use violates the company’s drug-free or drug-testing policies.  What will be a little more challenging for employers is the fact that violations will no longer show up on criminal background checks – so those employers who apply a strict policy of not hiring those with drug convictions will no longer be able to access that information.  But they can still rely on pre-employment drug testing to determine whether someone is a current user.