How does legalization of pot affect employment?
Although legal marijuana proponents won a big victory in Washington and Colorado on Election Day don’t pull out the Twinkies and brownies yet. The new law may make it legal to smoke pot in the privacy of your own home but how legalized pot will affect the work place is still yet to be seen.
Lawyers in both Colorado and Washington are urging employers to draft a clear policy about pot legalization. Labor and employment attorneys argue that how recreational pot use will be viewed by companies could come down to company policy and making sure your employees understand the regulations.
Some suspect that this issue could eventually end up on the docket of the Supreme Court, given the current discrepancy between federal and state legalization laws. Most agree, however, that now that state law enforcement officers are not going to arrest recreational marijuana users it’s unlikely that the 5,000 drug enforcement officers will try to do much to stop users.
What is allowed under the new Oregon law? Adults can possess, grow, consume and give away (to another adult) up to an ounce of marijuana, marijuana will be legally available for commercial sale no sooner than late 2013 and people can grow up to six plants in secured areas. Washington has slightly different statutes.
Proponents of the new law argue that legalization will increase tax revenue with much of the increase going to fund public schools.
How does legalization of marijuana drug use affect employment?
No one expects it will ever be okay to be high on the job. But unfortunately, employees who choose to smoke marijuana and wait several hours to go to work may not actually be high on the job but trace amounts of the drug will remain in their bodies, and they could test positive for drug use several weeks after use. But this begs the question: How far can an employer go to prohibit an employee from using marijuana when they are not at work? No one is quite sure yet.
The issue could become even more complicated when dealing with Federal construction contracts which require Oregon employers to guarantee drug-free workforces. But will it be that tough to ban smoking marijuana the way that employers ban other substances such as cigarettes and alcohol? Again, no one knows for sure yet. Most experts expect the real question will be, however, not whether smoking pot is prohibited but more about the impairment level of the worker and how they perform their job.
Unfortunately, everyone agrees that evaluating impairment can be a tricky issue, and the consequences vary by profession. For example, do you want your airplane pilot coming to work a day after getting high? Probably not, but you may be less concerned if it is your secretary. The trucking industry is also concerned because many truckers cross state lines, potentially putting employees and employers at risk.
Whether or not you are against the new law or for it all employers seem to agree that safety will have to come first. Employers will have to continue to find new policies and procedures to help all employees avoid impairment on the job and this will create extra work and a burden on many industries that are already struggling.
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