Its (Mostly) Legal… Why Bother With Occupational Marijuana Testing?

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So, as of this writing, 24 states in the US have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use.  If my math is right, that’s about HALF the country.

That means you are either dealing directly with the question of drug testing in a state where it is legal, or you realize that it IS coming your way.

Let me give you some stats:

  • 5 million adults (age 26 or older) were current users of marijuana in 2014.
  • Of the more than 22 million current illicit drug users (age 18 or older, in 2014) over 70% of them were employed. And of those drugs, marijuana is by far the leading drug (see stat #1 above)
  • For the first time since anyone was asked, a majority of Americans (52%) believe marijuana should be legalized.

The point is, statistically speaking, you’ve got some marijuana users in your work force (whether it’s legal or not).  And that number is going to continue to grow (no pun intended).

Whether you are for or against legalized marijuana, there can be no question that you don’t want someone who is high operating a crane or flying your family across the country for vacation.

How to Ensure Worksite Safety in A World of Increasing Marijuana Use

First of all, if you are in a Department of Transportation or other Federally mandated drug testing program (like FMCSA, PHMSA, etc…) it does not matter where you live.  Your drivers are required to follow the Federal regulations and if they test positive for marijuana you’ve got problems.  Period.

For Non-DOT drug-free workplace policies it can get a bit more… blurry.

Pot is a lot like alcohol:

  • #2 abused substance in the US, second only to alcohol
  • It impairs a person’s ability to operate heavy machinery, just like booze
  • Marijuana damages the brain, just like booze (In fact, studies have shown that today’s pot has 3x the amount of THC than it did just a few decades ago…)

But here’s the big difference between marijuana and alcohol:

We can test for current intoxication levels for alcohol. 

No such test exists for marijuana.  Clearly you don’t want someone showing up to work high on pot, any more than you want someone showing up drunk.

Imagine you suspect someone of being drunk at work, you can easily call in a breathalyzer to find out FOR SURE if they are intoxicated at this very instant.  If so, your drug and alcohol policy should tell you what action needs to be taken.

Now let’s turn the tables, and imagine the same guy shows up and you suspect he’s stoned.  There is absolutely no way for you to prove it with objective data.  ZERO.

Are you going to fire him or send him home without pay on suspicion alone?  I’m not sure how well that would hold up in court, especially in a state where pot is legal.

Have him take a drug test?  Sure… that’ll tell you if he’s smoked pot in the past.  Which is completely irrelevant in a state where pot is legal.

So what should you do for occupational marijuana testing?

Unless you are willing to see your safety rating go through the roof and pay out loads of worker’s compensation money, there is only one course of action:

  1. Make your drug policy crystal clear that you do test for marijuana (pre-employment and random testing).
  2. Enroll your supervisors in “Reasonable Suspicion” Training classes. In pot legal states, it might be worth it to do yearly training for ALL your employees.
  3. Do your random testing, without fail.  Consistency is key.

From a safety standpoint, I don’t believe that it makes any sense to treat marijuana any differently than any other illegal drug UNTIL there is a “fit for duty” test for marijuana that can measure current intoxication levels.

You don’t want a drunk mucking around with your high-dollar equipment and putting people at risk… why would you let a stoner?

Click here to see how Lobdock can help you save money and headaches with proper implementation of drug testing policies that are smart, efficient, and effective.  Or call us at 1-855-753-7843!

About the Author Susan Lobsinger

Susan is founder and President of Lobdock Impairment Detection, a full-service, mobile drug testing and contractor compliance management provider. Lobdock provides safety managers with the objective data they need to make safety decisions that make a difference in the lives, safety, and health of their employees who work in safety sensitive positions.

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