Massachusetts Marijuana Industry to Prohibit Employment of Convicted Drug Traffickers

By Michael Klazema on 3/15/2018

Massachusetts, whose citizens voted in favor of recreational legalization in November 2016, has taken the process more slowly than other "legal" states such as Colorado or Washington. 

2017 saw many developments, including the creation of regulatory boards now in the process of developing the framework for marijuana cultivation in Massachusetts. Employment in the burgeoning marijuana industry is one critical issue under consideration by these bodies. State law stipulates the industry must not automatically exclude individuals with a history of drug convictions or prison time.

Recently, the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) issued a decision based on a narrow 3-2 vote to create a mandatory exclusion for individuals convicted of drug trafficking. Board members argued such an exclusion was within the bounds of their authority, as several other serious offenses are also automatic disqualifications. They contended trafficking indicates a much higher level of illegal activity than possession or minor distribution. Those opposed argued it was unnecessary considering the rigorous hiring process already defined by the Commission.

With more than 90% of employers relying on background checks in their hiring process, it is no surprise the legal marijuana industry in Massachusetts would do so as well. In compliance with the state's ban the box laws, background checks will only occur after a dispensary or cultivation outfit hires an individual or extends an employment offer. At this stage, applicants can be disqualified for several items that might show up on their background check. Ultimately the CCC would have the final say with the ability to deny an applicant. 

The CCC's vote creates a category of exclusions including drug trafficking which would prevent an individual from applying for a marijuana-related position. Such disqualifying factors include ongoing criminal proceedings, appearance on a sex offender registry, and several types of felony convictions. makes it simple for any employer to conduct due diligence on applicants with search products tailored to return sought-after criminal history information. 

The new rules come as federal scrutiny begins to once again fall more heavily on states with newly-legalized marijuana industries. In the wake of the Department of Justice's decision to reverse course on leniency, states like Massachusetts have chosen to tread very carefully to avoid situations that could invite federal action. The committee member who cast the deciding vote, Kay Doyle, explained the youth of the industry was her primary motivation for siding with the exclusion policies.

In the future, Doyle said, the CCC could reconsider the impact of such a policy considering new information. For now, the rule will be to tread lightly and thoroughly vet potential employees.

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