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I started work last week at a small (~10-15 employees) tech company in California as an intern. Since marijuana is legal here for both medicinal and recreational use, I've been considering pursuing medicinal marijuana to treat anxiety. I already obtained a doctor's recommendation, but I'm having second thoughts in the event that my company decides to drug test me. I haven't been tested yet, and I've already been working here just under a week.

I like to think I've made a good impression so far (I've done my best to go the extra mile and my boss has complimented me on the work I've done so far), so I don't think I give off the impression that I'm a slacker or stoner. While the workplace policy doesn't require drug testing, it does allow for random tests, and since my company does take on federal contracts, it seems possible.

My boss seems like a relaxed guy so I was considering sitting down with him one-on-one, and explaining that this was something I was considering after already having been to counseling, while emphasizing that I would never come to work under the influence or let it affect my performance, and that the job is my priority. Is this a bad idea? Could this reflect negatively on me? Is there a better way I can approach this?

They're a private company, they could simply decide that I "don't fit with the company's culture" or make up any excuse they want - but even if they don't fire me, this is just an internship but it may be somewhere I want to return to some day so I don't want to burn any bridges.

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    If you've got a medical note recommending or prescribing it, I don't see how they could legally drug test you for it. – Rob Jul 11 '17 at 4:11
  • You say it's a small company. Do you have an HR person, or is that all done by the managers? – David K Jul 11 '17 at 11:35
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    @Rob It's dicey because federal law still prohibits it. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jul 11 '17 at 13:05
  • Also, keep in mind that if you ever get injured on the job and it is reported it will be an immediate drug test. This is an attempt to release the company from any liability of your injury. – John K. Jul 11 '17 at 17:59
  • I doubt that no matter how much of a "relaxed guy" your boss is, he'd be willing to risk losing those Federal contracts and the possibility of getting such contracts in the future over an intern. You really have 2 choices: Find another, legal way to deal with your anxiety or go ahead and use marijuana and hope you don't get caught. Keep in mind too that many, if not all potential employers in the future will likely require a pre-employment drug screen. – DLS3141 Jul 11 '17 at 21:07
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since my company does take on federal contracts

Until marijuana is rescheduled / decriminalized / in some other way legalized by the federal government, you are risking your job. End of story.

Is this a bad idea?

Yes, because the company accepts federal contracts. Do not discuss it with your boss. The fact that you have a good relationship with your boss makes discussing it an even worse idea. Don't put them in a position where you know they can't accommodate your request, especially when backing you or staying silent can backfire on them this hard.

EDIT: I'd like to take the opportunity here to emphasize that what I said above applies regardless of your state or local laws regarding marijuana.

Edit: The Drug Free Workplace Act of 1998 requires many/most Federal Contractors to maintain a "drug-free" workplace. Failure to do so can result in penalties including: suspended/stopped payments, revocation of the existing contract and/or ineligibility for future contracts.

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I'd thoroughly read your employee handbook. It should indicate if it is a "drug-free" company and the different types of drug tests administered (random, company-wide, injury, etc.) and what the repercussions are if you fail a test.

Your coworkers are your best resource. It really should come up in conversation and you can ask them. My brother works at a software company in CA that does federal contracts and certain jobs at drug-free companies. To go on those company's sites, you must pass a drug test. At his company, you can "refuse" a job because you don't want to or can't pass a drug test. The company has no problem with it.

Most places that do drug test will usually require the passing of one to start (they want to make sure you're clean to begin with). Since you weren't tested in the first place, I'd say it is unlikely the failing of a test (for THC) would automatically terminate you if were to be randomly tested, especially if it has not been made clear to you that it is a drug-free workplace.

Marijuana is a very widely used and common drug in CA and employers are aware of this.

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If the company policy is non-existent or unclear, I would likely have a conversation with my boss. For me, the deciding factor would be my relationship with my boss, my take on company culture, and my assessment of the risk of damage to my reputation associated with expressing an interest in using medical marijuana. At my previous employer, I would have no qualms about asking. At my current employer, there is no need to ask, it is expressly forbidden.

The salient points for the conversation:

  • You have been prescribed by a doctor (without saying the reason)
  • You will absolutely, 100% respect the company's decision
  • You are not currently taking it
  • You are not planning to take it recreationally
  • You are not planning to take it before or during work hours
  • You like the job and company and in no way want to hurt your standing with the company or the company's standing in industry

Just because the company sometimes takes federal contracts doesn't necessarily mean every employee will be required to work on them, be tested, or that the contract will stipulate a drug-free or testing requirement.

If the company knows you are taking medicinal marijuana, it may be that they would excuse you from working on any projects which would require testing, though that may limit your career growth.

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Is this a bad idea?

Almost the worst possible, yes. You're making yourself seem bad and putting your boss in a situation where he's pretty much obligated to take action in some direction based on what you say.

Could this reflect negatively on me?

Yes. As above, this basically necessitates your boss to take action with that knowledge. Marijuana still has severely negative stigma associated with it. While use may be common in the tech industry, it is still not very widely accepted in the corporate world.

Find out from long-term coworkers (ideally, marijuana users themselves) what the drug testing schedule looks like. Typically, there are drug tests for office personnel only after there's been an incident where their behavior indicates that they were under the influence. This isn't a hard and fast rule, however, so do your research.

Is there a better way I can approach this?

Yes. Don't broach the topic at all. This goes for just about any sort of medical concern. The only time you need to bring up your medical condition with an employer is if you need them to make an accommodation for you. Otherwise, anything you say is going to color their perception of you. It's a conversation best left unhad.

I hope you make great strides forward with managing your anxiety.

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