All Work and….Some Play? Cannabis Use in the Workplace

When thinking of cannabis consumption, one typically imagines Doritos, a movie and a nice soft lounge. But have you ever considered getting high before work?

While still federally illegal, cannabis is now legal in 11 US states – most recently in Illinois.

And as the plant grows in popularity, so too does it's consumption – even in the workforce.

There's now an estimated 500,000 Canadians using cannabis during or before work, with increases also occurring in the US. This rise in the prevalence of cannabis is forcing employers to take another look at their own drug policies.

Let's take a look at some things you should know before lighting up in the office.

Survey Shows 25% of Cannabis Users in Legal States Consume at Work
Darren J. Bradley/ Shutterstock

Please Higher Me

As the US follows Canada's lead and increasingly legalizes cannabis, job applicants are testing positive on drug tests more than they have in the past 14 years. In states where cannabis is legal, surveys showed that 25% of cannabis users ingested the substance at work.

As you can see, this is why many workplaces are beginning to struggle with maintaining a "zero-tolerance" drug policy.

On top of this, cannabis is medicinally legal in 33 states with users depending upon it for glaucoma, anxiety, epilepsy and chronic pain.

Because of these factors, it can be hard to deny workers their medicine.

Though there is precedence – A veteran named Gary Ross in 2008 who was fired from his admin job for using medicinal marijuana to treat the pains he received during service. Ross's employment was also in California, where medicinal marijuana was legal at the time.


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While this might seem like an open and shut case for marijuana advocates, the Californian court actually deemed the firing lawful, given that cannabis was still federally illegal.

Though it isn't simply about legality either. I'm sure you'd be nervous too if you hired someone to fix your house and they were using heavy machinery while high as a kite.

The laws surrounding cannabis in the workplace are still in their infancy, but it seems that judges will often rule in favour of employers rather than employees – even in cases where marijuana has been prescribed for medicinal purposes.

According to a study from the Society of Human Resource Management in 2015, 94 percent of companies had written substance-use policies in states where cannabis was legal either recreationally or medicinally. Of these, many had enacted changes into their policies following on from the legalization of cannabis to ensure the drug isn't consumed in the workplace.

Image result for stoned employee

High-Performing Industries 

A survey performed by Remedy Review entitled 'High at Work: Exploring the Relationship Between Marijuana and the Workplace' analysed which jobs had the highest rates of the cannabis-ingesting employees. The food and hospitality industries came in first place, with 35 percent of workers in those industries saying that they've been stoned on the job before.

What was it we said about heavy machinery again?  Never mind, the second highest amount of stoners in an occupation is construction at 32.5 percent.

And lastly—with the third most stoned workers—are the arts and entertainment industries (shocking…I know.)

Though interestingly there hasn't been a surge in workplace accidents. In fact, the opposite has occurred – we've seen a 34% decrease in workplace deaths since medical marijuana was legalized.

The decrease in workplace deaths isn't specifically because cannabis gives users a heightened sense of focus or dexterity. In fact, it's uncertain why the lowered death rate is occurring at all. But one theory suggests it's simply because cannabis is a healthier drug than alcohol or opiates, which workers may have previously been using to self-medicate.

Which brings us back to the issue of cannabis in the workplace. Many workplaces now have drug tests, as well as a zero-tolerance policy on cannabis. Though when it comes to drug testing, cannabis can stay in the body for several days. This means that if someone were to use the drug recreationally over the weekend, their employer might be asking them why on Monday.

On top of this, drug tests reveal very little about just how intoxicated a cannabis user is, only notifying the employer that the employee has used the drug before – not how often they use it.

The California Chamber of Commerce spoke of the blurred lines when it comes to drug testing:  "Marijuana can remain in the system and show up in a drug test for up to 45 days following use in regular users. There is no method to determine if an individual is impaired at the time the drug is found in that individual's system or if it was consumed at an earlier time and the individual is no longer impaired."

And even if an employee were to have smoked that very same day, it's apples and oranges when comparing the intoxication felt through the use of different drugs, for example marijuana and alcohol.

According to a study entitled 'The Effects of Cannabis Versus Alcohol on Driving' "studies have been inconclusive regarding whether cannabis use causes an increased risk of accidents; in contrast, unanimity exists that alcohol use increases crash risk."

The study states that cannabis users approach driving differently when stoned, i.e. driving slower in order to mitigate the intoxicating effects of the drug. Meanwhile, those who drink alcohol don't typically change their driving style to accommodate for their impaired reflexes.

This suggests that while it may not be the best idea to allow your workers to have a lunchtime pint, allowing them to have a joint at 4:20 mightn't be the worst thing you could do.

Image result for workplace weed

Hemployee of the Month

While many companies are maintaining a strict no-drug policy with routine drug tests, there are others who are more welcoming to those that enjoy cannabis.

One of the main factors in deciding whether or not to allow cannabis use in the workplace is the particular job that an employee will be performing.

The Southern California company Goodwill—which trains workers for over 200 businesses—has recently changed their tact on marijuana. Last February, the organization stopped screening for cannabis use for retail jobs after decades of drug testing. The easing will occur across 85 stores which employ more than 1,000 part-time workers.

The selective drug screening method seems to be catching on too, with big names such as Target taking a similar approach. In 2014 Target scaled back from testing all applicants for drugs to only testing specific jobs where there was a perceived risk involved with any impairment. These jobs included security guards and warehouse machinery operators.

While these changes could be seen as companies "getting with the times," they're more often a result of necessity.

As you can see, testing positive for drugs is becoming increasingly prevalent, and many workplaces simply can't afford to turn applicants down. With record low levels of unemployment, many employers simply have to take what they can get – stoned or otherwise.

Marc Cannon, a representative of the largest U.S. car retailer AutoNation stated that "You watch what's going on in society. You look at recruiting, and you say, 'We've got to adjust.  A lot of great candidates were failing the test."  The company spans across 55 outlets and has 26,000 employees nationwide. They also stopped testing for marijuana three years ago. "There are people who drink and are great workers, but they don't do it on the job. Marijuana is just like alcohol," Cannon added.

So it would seem that the times, they are-a changin' to adapt to the growing appetite for cannabis globally. In time, with more employers taking the risk and employing cannabis users, data will emerge about just how viable a stoned employee actually is. For the time being however, it's mostly a stab in the dark if a workplace chooses to allow cannabis use, or to cancel drug screenings.

And for the job seekers among us—especially those who use and depend upon medical—look carefully at where you work. They aren't always going to be accommodating.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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