Connecticut Legalizes Recreational Marijuana

Author: Emily Scace, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 22, 2021

Recreational use of marijuana will be legal in Connecticut under legislation signed today by Gov. Ned Lamont. Adult possession and use will be legal as of July 1, 2021, with retail sales of cannabis projected to begin by the end of 2022. With the passage of the bill, Connecticut joins 18 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing recreational marijuana.

Spanning nearly 300 pages, the new law contains provisions erasing many past marijuana-related convictions. Background screening providers and consumer reporting agencies will be required to update their records accordingly, permanently deleting criminal records that have been erased under the statute within 30 days of receiving information on their erasure.

Employers will not be required to allow employees to work while under the influence of cannabis or to possess, use or otherwise consume cannabis while working or on the employer's premises, except for possession of palliative cannabis by qualifying patients.

In addition, employers remain free to implement drug-free workplace policies that prohibit employee possession, use and consumption of cannabis. Such policies must be in writing and made available to employees prior to enactment. An employer must make its written cannabis policy available to prospective employees when making an offer of employment and may not discharge or take any other adverse action against an employee for off-duty cannabis use unless done in keeping with such a policy.

The law also prohibits an employer from taking adverse action against a prospective or current employee based on the individual's prior cannabis use outside the workplace before being employed by that employer unless failing to do so would cause the employer to violate a federal contract or lose federal funding. A number of positions and industries are exempt from this provision, including law enforcement, emergency response and many safety- or security-sensitive roles.

Employers retain the ability to conduct pre-employment drug testing or fitness for duty evaluations; however, effective July 1, 2022, a positive test result solely for 11-nor-9-carboxy-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, a secondary metabolite of THC, may not form the only basis for refusing to employ or otherwise penalizing a prospective or existing employee unless:

  • The position or industry is listed as exempt in the statute;
  • Failing to do so would cause the employer to violate a federal contract or lose federal funding;
  • The employer reasonably suspects an employee's cannabis use while working;
  • The employee displays symptoms of drug impairment while working; or
  • The drug test was conducted under a random drug testing policy that provides for adverse action for a positive test result for this substance.

The law contains a private right of action for violations of the statute's employment protections. Remedies for individuals who prevail in a lawsuit against an employer may include reinstatement, back wages and attorney fees.