Marijuana in the Workplace

Marijuana in the Workplace

The Issues at Work

Marijuana is more potent than ever. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported the average national THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) level was between 10 – 16%, well over a 500% increase from the 1970s marijuana THC content of 1.5 – 3%. Additionally, some new forms of marijuana extracts have a THC level of over 50 – 90% that can be inhaled using an e-cigarette type device, or added to popular candies, cookies, sodas and snack foods for easy and secret consumption making it possible for users to become quite intoxicated.

Employers should be very concerned if they conduct highly sensitive operations, transactions or monitoring dealing with, for example, finances, data, or security; performing safety sensitive functions such as driving or operating machinery; or working in dangerous conditions such as high elevations, with electricity, or in ditches.

What does this mean for the American workplace and the small business owner?

Pot Remains Federally Illegal
The biggest issue for states is that marijuana remains a federally scheduled, illicit drug. Federal legalization of marijuana would virtually eliminate all employer protection in hiring. In fact, it would give marijuana-using employees more job rights and protections than those employees who do not use the drug.

Employers’ Rights Upheld
In the workplace, conflicts related to legalization issues will continue to arise and will be the subject of many future lawsuits, effectively keeping government, industry, employers and employees in legal limbo for years to come. This will not come without a burden to society; including legal fees, insurance costs, increased liability, higher taxes, environmental impact, lowered income, and added consumer expenses.

So far, the courts have repeatedly upheld employers’ rights to “hire at will,” however, defending these rights has come at a high cost with a number of high profile cases elevated to state supreme courts. For example, in September, 2012, the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Michigan U.S. District Court ruling that “The [Michigan] medical marijuana law does not regulate private employment.” In this case, a Battle Creek, Michigan, Wal-Mart store employee was fired for testing positive for marijuana even though the employee possessed a Michigan Medical Marijuana Card.

Doing Business With The Federal Government
Doing business with the federal government, whether as a contractor, grantee or in a federally regulated industry, such as transportation, could be jeopardized if the business is not in compliance with federal drug testing laws. Employees that possess a state medical-pot ID receive no dispensation from the federal regulations.

Our Future Workforce At Risk
Medical marijuana and legalization efforts are effectively desensitizing our young people to the marketing of “big marijuana,” an estimated $10-$120 billion industry targeting teens and young adults who will become lifetime users. Promoting pot use to our youth whose brains have not fully developed and are vulnerable is a striking blow to their future. Our nation is working to prepare our youth to enter the workforce through improved education and job skills, but no amount of training will be able to address the negative impact from substance use.

Looking Forward
In spite of all the legal issues surrounding pot, employers still need to know that marijuana is an intoxicant and should continue to treat it as such. Employers that promote a safe workplace and healthy lifestyles will fare the best over time. There is no doubt that the number of pot users will steadily increase but the good news is that most people do not use drugs and deserve to be protected from its harms in the workplace.