At the time of our last State of Marijuana in the U.S. article in 2015, four states and the District of Columbia had legalized recreational marijuana use and 18 states had legalized medical marijuana. As the maps below show, a lot has changed in the last two and a half years – eight states and the District of Columbia have passed recreational marijuana laws and 29 states have legalized medical marijuana.
However, one major law has stayed the same – marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
Although it may seem like “everyone” is legalizing marijuana, employment laws can still restrict marijuana use. For workers employed by a federal entity or workers employed by contractors, subcontractors and suppliers working on federal projects, marijuana use is strictly prohibited. Medical marijuana is not a legitimate medical explanation under current Department of Transportation (DOT) drug testing regulations.
While there have been no reported cases of fatal overdose from marijuana alone and marijuana does not seem terribly harmful compared to other drugs, (including some that are legal) marijuana is associated with a range of side effects. These include panic attacks, seizures, hallucinations, psychosis, sedation, dry mouth, heart palpitations and arrhythmias and – potentially most worrisome for workplace safety – cognitive impairment and slower reaction times.
The challenge is that it has become increasingly difficult to hire people who can pass a pre-employment drug test. In addition, once employees have been hired, many employers are finding that more employees are either failing random and post-accident drug screens or simply quitting if asked to take a drug test. This is especially true in states where marijuana has been legalized in some capacity. Although not a new challenge for employers, finding and keeping qualified and productive employees has only become more difficult over the last several years.
“Just as employers have a responsibility to provide a workplace free from hazards, employees have a responsibility to show up ready to put in a full day’s work, which includes being able to pass a workplace drug test,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “The LHSFNA recommends all LIUNA members make themselves aware of their employer’s policies and expectations on this issue, especially if you work in a state where marijuana is legal in some capacity.”
While failing a workplace drug test can reflect poorly on more than just the worker who failed it, being able to pass a drug test lets LIUNA members demonstrate to employers that union workers understand their responsibilities and are committed to working safely and following drug-free workplace policies.
While public opinion will likely continue to shift toward supporting marijuana legalization and downplaying the potentially serious side effects, there are several steps employers can take to contribute to a safe and drug-free workplace. These include the following:
Employer Drug-Free Workplace Best Practices
- Prioritize safety in all workplace activities.
- Implement a drug-free workplace as part of a comprehensive workplace safety culture.
- Create a written drug-free workplace policy that complies with state and federal regulations.
- Communicate expectations, rules and policies to all employees.
- Educate and train employees about applicable policies and where to get help if they need it.
- Train supervisors to recognize signs of usage and how to take appropriate action if usage is suspected.
Marijuana legalization will continue to be a changing and multi-faceted issue that requires further monitoring. In the meantime, safety will continue to be the driving force for workplace recommendations made by the LHSFNA on behalf of LIUNA members and signatory contractors.
The LHSFNA is available to review drug-free workplace policies, assist with policy language and develop and provide employee and supervisor drug-free workplace training for LIUNA affiliates upon request.
The Fund’s Marijuana and the Drug-Free Workplace and Answering Your Questions on Why Using Marijuana Could Cost You Your Job provide more information on this topic and are available by going to www.lhsfna.org and clicking on Publications.
[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]