Clashing on Marijuana
Aug 28, 2019


The Department of Justice announced this week that the Drug Enforcement Agency is moving forward to facilitate and expand scientific and medical research for marijuana in the United States.  Researchers hoping to study marijuana for scientific and medical purposes have had only one approved supplier for nearly 50 years – limiting the availability to research the plant.  But don’t get too excited…the DEA first intends to propose new regulations that will govern marijuana growers.



In 2016, the DEA reaffirmed its position to keep marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, an illegal drug, citing the lack of scientific research to reschedule or de-schedule it to become legal.  However, the DEA announced it would expand research and increase the number of entities approved to grow marijuana for research purposes.  The DEA didn’t act on any of the applications and was sued in federal court demanding it take action.  The DOJ announcement comes ahead of the court’s deadline to the agency to respond to the lawsuit.



Don’t forget that both Nevada and New York City passed laws prohibiting employers from not hiring an applicant for failing a marijuana test.  Effective 1/1/20, Nevada was the first state to pass the law, which does not apply to firefighters, EMTs, employees who operate a motor vehicle, or those who could adversely affect others’ safety.  (Nevada legalized recreational marijuana in 2016.)  Effective 5/1/20, the law actually prohibits employers, labor orgs, and employment agencies and their agents from requiring prospective employees to submit to a marijuana test as a condition of employment; there are exceptions for safety-related jobs.  (New York legalized medical marijuana usage in 2014.)  With more states legalizing recreational and medical marijuana, expect more of these initiatives in 2020.



The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Tuesday that hemp farmers operating under pilot programs authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill are now eligible for federal crop insurance for the 2020 planting season while those who cultivate hemp under broader federal legalization in the 2018 version of the legislation can obtain coverage after regulations are developed.  Producers who are growing hemp through a research program via the 2014 bill’s provisions can obtain Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP), an insurance program that covers up to $8.5 million in revenue. Only farmers producing hemp for fiber, flower, or seeds will qualify.


Air Quality


The Environmental Protection Agency announced that Columbus, Ohio, is the first non-attainment metropolitan area in the US to meet the most recent federal air quality standard for ozone pollution.  As a result of the state capital and largest city meeting the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone, area businesses will face fewer air permitting restrictions paving the way for infrastructure investment and economic development that will create jobs.



For weeks now, forest fires have been burning across Brazil’s Amazon rainforest – more than 39,000 this year alone.  Since August 15, more than 9,500 new forest fires have started in the Amazon.  As the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon plays a crucial role in keeping our planet’s carbon-dioxide levels in check.  Leaders of the G7 offered $20 million of emergency aid to help battle the fires.  Just breathe – we’ll get through this.


Making Our Way Around the Country


In a long anticipated ruling, an Oklahoma judge ruled that Johnson & Johnson is liable for $572 million for the public nuisance it created when it engaged in a marketing campaign that promoted opioid use.  The decision was the first to hold a drugmaker responsible for the opioid epidemic.   Two other defendants settled out of court for a total of $355 million.  A public nuisance is defined as an act or omission that affects an entire community or neighborhood.  Unlike other states, Oklahoma does not require property to be affected for public nuisance to be applied. 



The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addressed how employers should report nonbinary classifications in their EEO-1 Component 2 report.  In an updated list of frequently asked questions (FAQ), the EEOC indicates that filers can include “employee counts and labor hours for nonbinary gender employees by job category and pay bank and racial group in the comment box on the Certification Page.”  So not as easy as checking a box but a narrative response will comply.  No word on if the EEOC will revise the EEO-1 report for the next filing.



RIMS, the risk management society®, urged its members to support the ADA Compliance for Customer Entry to Stores and Services Act (ACCESS Act), which would protect both businesses and individuals with disabilities from frivolous lawsuits and address ADA violations more efficiently.  The bill would require any ADA violations be in writing to the owner or operator that also identifies the barrier to their access.  Businesses would then have 60 days to respond to the notice and 120 days to make improvements before a lawsuit is filed.



A new opinion letter from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) suggests that many parents of kids with disabilities are entitled to take time away from work to attend their child’s individualized education program (IEP) meetings under FMLA.  DOL opinion letters only speak to specific circumstances of those individuals the agency is corresponding with, but it does give insight to the agency’s view on an issue.  Hope you enjoy your Labor Day weekend!


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