New York is 23rd State to Legalize Medical Marihuana

On July 7, 2014, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Compassionate Care Act, creating a regulatory framework for the controlled growth of a new marijuana industry in the state that could benefit both patients and public coffers. New York becomes the twenty-third state to legalize medical marijuana.

Critics raise many different kinds of objections to the law. Pro-legalization advocates complain that the law is disappointingly limited. It includes a complex array of regulatory requirements including licenses for users and producers; the law sunsets in seven years unless the legislature acts to renew it; it limits possession by individual users to a 30-day supply or 2.5 ounces; it specifies that there can be only five manufacturers producing medical marijuana legally in the state; and the list of diseases for which marijuana can be prescribed arguably leaves out many patients who could benefit. The new law also arguably inflates the drug’s cost by forbidding whole-plant sales, prohibiting production or sale of medical marijuana in its most-common smokable form, and imposing a seven percent tax on the drug.

On the other hand, New York’s law is relatively sweeping in one way: it classifies all individuals who are prescribed medical marijuana as “disabled,” which implies that employers will have to make allowances–and even provide reasonable accommodation for medical marijuana users. We can expect a lot more arguments by legislators, and probably a good amount of legal activity, aimed at deciding exactly which accommodations legal marijuana users must be provided by their employers.

Other criticisms have to do with the new law’s requirement that these five new large entities that will be collectively responsible for production of all legal pot in New York are required by statute to have all their employees represented by “bona fide labor organizations” and to enter into “labor peace agreements” with their employees’ unions. Indeed, the first section states:

The legislature finds that the financial viability of such organizations (producers) would be greatly diminished and threatened by labor-management conflict, such as a strike at a facility that cultivates marijuana, especially because of the need for enhanced security concerning the products. Replacements during a strike would be difficult to arrange and cause delay far more significant than a strike elsewhere. Accordingly, the legislature finds that the state has a substantial and compelling proprietary interest in this matter, and finds that labor peace is essential for any organization to conduct business relating to the sale of medical marihuana.”

Critics argue that this requirement will greatly increase the cost of labor and, ultimately, the product. Others simply oppose union activity generally and see the law’s provisions about “labor peace” as a victory for their pro-union adversaries. Interestingly, the authors of the law seem to be most interested in making the state’s new marijuana industry economically stable, by putting employees under agreements that offer them benefits in return for agreeing not to engage in disruptive activities like strikes.

If you believe your rights under New York’s new Compassionate Care Act have been violated at work, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.