Construction professionals at work

It’s beginning to feel like the widespread legalization of marijuana is inevitable. While marijuana is still an illegal substance under federal law, several states have decided to legalize cannabis. Effectively, this means that the states haven’t actually “legalized” marijuana, as much as they have decided to no longer punish the use of the substance. Rather than a wholesale ban on marijuana, these states have opted to regulate its use and heavily tax its sale.

In Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, the tax benefits have been enormous- in the first two years that marijuana was legal in Colorado, the state pulled in $269M in tax revenues on it. Over recent years, this number has only grown. Better yet, the tax revenues are going to the Colorado Department of Education and Department of Public Health. Since 2015, over $110M has been distributed to Colorado schools.

With so many benefits flowing from the legalization of cannabis, it’s no surprise that there has been a recent push for legalization among many states. But as more states legalize the substance, it is important to know how it will affect industry. In order to determine how the relationship between construction and marijuana will go, let’s look at where cannabis has already been legalized, what liabilities may arise with marijuana use and the construction industry, and finally how one industry member has already begun capitalizing on legalized marijuana.

Because marijuana is illegal on the federal level, imagine air quotes around the word “legal” throughout this post.

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Where is Marijuana Legal?

Measures for recreational use have passed in the following states:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Washington D.C.

While voters have passed legalization measures, this does not mean marijuana is immediately legal in these states. The time frame for legalization will vary from state to state.

Many states have legislation in place that allows for medical marijuana, and Arkansas, North Dakota, and Florida can now join those ranks. For an in depth look at state medical marijuana laws, the National Conference of State Legislatures is a great resource.

How do the construction and marijuana industries mix?

With consumption? They don’t.

The construction industry is already prone to many hazards on the job. Due to the efforts of OSHA and collaboration between industry members, workplace safety has been on the rise. With the inherent risks of working on a construction site, any level of impairment caused by marijuana use could seriously affect safety on the job site. Industry members refuse to lose ground on workplace safety, and the legalization of marijuana will not change that.

Arguments on whether or not marijuana consumption would be dangerous for those on a construction site are pretty much moot, at least for now. No construction manager will toe the line when it could expose their business to potential liability. Though cannabis may be “legal” in a state, employers may still prohibit its use because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level. By maintaining a zero tolerance policy, an employer can avoid dealing with any headaches that could arise with the use of marijuana. However, should an employee be prescribed marijuana in a state where medical use is legal, this could get tricky. Employment laws can vary greatly from state to state, so depending on what state you’re in, it may be tough to enforce such a policy. However, because marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, the Americans with Disabilities Act will not be able to provide any federal protection.

One area where the interaction between employment laws and marijuana use (even if for medical purposes) is extremely clear is on federal projects. Because marijuana is illegal on a federal level, any use of the drug by a worker on a federal project is also illegal. This means that regardless of the circumstances and state laws on the substance, any contractor, sub, supplier or laborer cannot consume marijuana if working on a federal project.

Contractor capitalizes on the legalization of marijuana

While construction workers may not be able to participate in the consumption of marijuana, some have begun to profit off of cannabis legalization.

As noted in a story from DJC Oregon, Nathan Mendel has been making money off of the marijuana industry for years. Mendel worked as a contractor in more traditional areas such as multifamily housing, retail spaces, and assisted-living facilities. When legalization was looming in Colorado, Mendel shifted his focus. In 2011, he was hired to remodel a grow facility in anticipation of the legalization of recreational use in Colorado. Seeing an opportunity in the field, Mendel founded Your Green Contractor, a construction organization specializing in the construction of facilities used in the cannabis industry. As of April of 2015, marijuana based projects accounted for half of the contractor’s business.

With recreational and medical use becoming more prevalent across the U.S., it is clear that there will be many more opportunities in this field. Because of the reputation of marijuana and because of it’s illegality on the federal level, there are obstacles that must be overcome. Namely, finding financing can be a struggle for industry members. Mendel states that he is often paid in cash or personal check. Better yet, according to Mendel, it becomes extra important that a contractor abide by laws and regulations since projects ultimately support what is an illegal industry under federal law. Any contractor who wishes to enter this market should be extremely cautious and should consult an attorney before doing so.

For the full article on Nathan Mendel and Your Green Contractor, take a look at this article: Contractor strikes gold by building for ‘green’ industry.


The “legalization” of marijuana by some states has created some unique issues both for those consuming it and those looking to profit from it. As new laws on the substance come into effect, it should become more clear how construction and marijuana interact. Regarding consumption, while recreational or medicinal use may be provided for by a state, employment laws can (and should) restrict cannabis use. For those employed by a federal entity, and those contractors, subs, and suppliers working on federal projects, marijuana use is strictly prohibited. For members in the industry that are looking to capitalize on marijuana legalization, it appears there will be plenty of opportunity to do so. However, businesses should be very cautious when looking to enter the industry. The conflict of laws regarding marijuana creates a tangled web, and no business should venture into the market without an in depth analysis of applicable laws and regulations. Then again, this may all be moot, as we have no idea how electing Donald Trump might affect the legalization of marijuana.

On the blog, we talk about green construction an awful lot, but that’s a different subject entirely. To keep up with changes in construction and Mechanics lien law, head over to the New Legislation tag on the blog.

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Construction and Marijuana: How Will Legalization Affect the Industry?
With the legalization of marijuana in several states, it is important to understand the relationship between construction and marijuana.
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Lien Law News
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