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Cannabis in the Workplace – Regulate or Relax?

Friday, May 17, 2019   (0 Comments)
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PIHRA has assembled an extraordinary panel to explore and discuss the multifaceted impact that the growth of the cannabis industry has and may continue to have on HR and the workplace. Join us on Wednesday, May 29 from 6:00pm - 8:30pm at The Lot - La Jolla | 7611 Fay Ave, La Jolla, CA 92037.  See you there!

Cannabis in the Workplace – Regulate or Relax?

Marijuana legalization in the United States has become a heated topic of discussion. Approximately 10 states and Washington, D.C, have now legalized recreational usage for adults over the age of 21, and 33 states have legalized medical marijuana (“State Medical Marijuana Laws,” 2019).

Nonetheless, federally, marijuana is an illegal substance.  HR professionals and employment attorneys are concerned with how new marijuana legislation has and will impact the workplace.

The fact that employers want to ensure that employees are not coming to work intoxicated will never change. The marijuana subject is complicated because using marijuana off-the-clock results in a failed drug test with current testing technology. This leads to a lot of unanswered questions:

  • What should employers do when an employee uses marijuana for medical purposes and has a permit?
  • Should employers use more sophisticated drug testing technology or stop using drug testing as condition of employment?
  • Should employers relax their drug use policies or vary it depending on the type of position? 


Defining impairment and testing

One of the biggest challenges that employers face is determining levels of intoxication or impairment.  The legalization of marijuana doesn’t mean that being high at work is acceptable. Some corporations suggest treating cannabis the same as alcohol.  However, the body reacts to marijuana and alcohol in different ways. Further, the substances are metabolized different and show up in the bloodstream differently. For example, research shows that alcohol drastically impacts the part of the brain that controls balance and movement. That is why people who have ingested alcohol lose their balance easily. While there are not as many studies on the impact of marijuana, toxicologists affirm that the human body reacts to marijuana differently. Marijuana targets receptors, CB1 and CB2 receptors, that are naturally present in the brain, central nervous system, and the rest of the body. These receptors send messages to different parts the body. For example, CB1 receptors are known to impact appetite regulation You may have heard that people who smoke marijuana may have a sharp increase in their appetite (“What Are The Differences Between Being High And Being Drunk?” 2017). 

Given that there is limited research on the impact of marijuana on the body, it makes sense that testing for impairment is more challenging than testing for alcohol inebriation. Currently, the most widely used tests for marijuana use fluids that detects use within 3-30 days. They do not test impairment. The hair follicle test is another testing option but more effectively measures long term usage rather than current impairment. Many agencies and organizations are concerned about the lack of viable testing that is available to measure impairment. Organizations, such as Hound Labs, are focused on establishing testing around impairment that balances fairness and safety. For instance, last year Hound Labs introduced a “pot breathalyzer” that detects THC, the chemical in marijuana that gives people the feeling of euphoria, on a person’s breath. In a 2018 interview on NPR, Mike Lynn, CEO of Oakland, CA based Hound Labs, states, “When you find THC in breath, you can be pretty darn sure that somebody smoked pot in the last couple of hours.” Lynn went on to say, "And we don't want to have people driving during that time period or, frankly, at a work site in a construction zone" (“The Pot Breathalyzer is Here. Maybe,” 2018).


New Workplace Policies?

Lawmakers are still divided when it comes to off-the-clock marijuana use. Approximately a dozen states prohibit employers from discriminating against medical marijuana cardholders or from firing employees for testing positive for marijuana. In a recent article published by the Society for Human Resource Management, United States Representative Charlie Crist, D-Fla., is noted as proposing a 2018 bill that would prevent federal workers from being fired for using marijuana legally according to their state laws (“ABCs of THC,” 2019).

As new marijuana legislation continues to be introduced throughout the U.S., the taboo around marijuana use is weakening and usage is increasing. What does this mean for the workplace of the future? Well, happy hour may also take place at a cannabis café in the foreseeable future. Clearly, there really isn’t a one size fits all way to address cannabis in the workplace. Employers may begin to address the issue based on their industry and the various types of responsibilities their employees have. Human resources will need continue to engage with employees to evaluate what works best for their company and culture, ensure overall safety and adhere to local and federal law. 


Let’s keep talking about it

It’s time that HR leaders come together to discuss how much of an impact the growth of the cannabis industry has and may continue to have on human resources and the workplace.

Join PIHRA on Wednesday, May 29th at PIHRA #RealHR-La Jolla: HR. THC. CBD. OMG! for an interactive panel discussion & social.

For more information, visit See you on May 29th!

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