Kabrina Chang Honored for Work on Medical Marijuana and Employment Law

in Emerging Research, Faculty, Markets, Public Policy & Law, News
January 19th, 2012

Best Paper Prize for “High Risk Employment: The Management Headache from Medical Marijuana”

New work by Kabrina Krebel Chang, an assistant professor in Boston University School of Management’s Markets, Public Policy & Law Department, has been honored with a Best Paper prize from the South East Regional American Business Law Society Conference, which took place in November 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Chang’s research areas encompass employment law and employer liability, including the ethical, legal, and managerial implications of lifestyle discrimination. Her winning paper is titled “High Risk Employment: The Management Headache from Medical Marijuana.” The article explores an emerging ethical and legal workplace quandary that stems from contradictory positions on employee protection and the use of medical marijuana between some state and Federal courts.

If it is legal in my state, medical marijuana must be treated like any other prescription drug, right? Wrong.


Legalization of medical marijuana is a growing trend in the U.S.: 16 states and DC have medical marijuana laws, 13 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts, and 80% of Americans support allowance of medical marijuana to treat pain, Chang notes. Based on this trend, it seems employees using marijuana with a valid prescription would have protection. If it is legal in my state, medical marijuana must be treated like any other prescription drug, right?

Wrong, Chang shows. Courts have made it clear that, so far, there is no protection for employees who fail their company’s drug test because they tested positive for their medically legal marijuana use. By looking at various cases on both the state and Federal level, Chang outlines this tension and the ensuing confusion it causes both employees and employers.

The courts may have given management a blueprint for an effective policy.

She also points towards likely future trends in court decisions and illuminates two seminal, dissenting Federal arguments that might provide useful guidelines for managers. “Some employers want to accommodate marijuana and create workplace policies that reflect a new view of off-duty use of medical marijuana,” Chang writes. “The courts may have given management a blueprint for…an effective workplace drug policy that allowed for some medical marijuana use.”

But whether these guidelines can “adequately and appropriately address the very real concerns for employers about drug use” in the workplace today, Chang concludes, “remains a decision managers are making on a piecemeal basis.”