medical_marijuanaA week ago medical marijuana became available in Illinois. Frankly, I don’t really care if adults choose to smoke pot. I also don’t care if they choose to shoot staples into their thighs or drink gasoline. As long as it doesn’t harm me, my family or my business, it’s really none of my business.

That’s a relevant condition, though: “As long as it doesn’t harm me, my family or my business.”

There is a lot of information out there. Some of it is accurate. Some is not. Some, you just can’t be sure. Following are what I see as some of the myths perpetuated by the press and those who support legalization. My viewpoint is from that of an employer and one who supports the right and the responsibility of employers to maintain a safe, secure workplace.

Myth: When the high ends so does the impairment.

Reality: We’ve discussed this before. The assumption many make is that when the high ends so does the impairment.  Recent — and not-so-recent — studies indicate otherwise. In a 1985 study involving airline pilots, pot and a flight simulator, pilots had trouble landing planes 24 hours after marijuana use. 30 years later, pot is stronger and persists longer in the system.

Myth: You can’t ban or test for pot at work if it’s legal.

Reality: Alcohol is legal, and employers can ban it from the workplace. It’s a matter of having a well-written company policy. Make sure your policy is non-discriminatory and treats everyone the same.  If you test for drugs, make sure your process allows for medical review of all positive test results.  Well-written policies allow the Medical Review Officer (MRO) to determine whether a legitimate prescription creates a risk in the workplace.  Make sure the language in your policy addresses medical marijuana, and if you intend to allow medical marijuana use, you might have a chat with your workers comp provider. Keep in mind that MROs follow federal law, so will not make exceptions for medical marijuana.

Myth:  Marijuana is medicine.

Reality:  This is a tricky one. There are compelling anecdotal arguments that certain types of conditions are improved with marijuana use. Curiously, there are few, if any, credible scientific studies on the effectiveness of marijuana as a medicine. In every state where it has been legalized for medicinal use, it’s legal for use for a specific list of conditions.  Medicine is regulated by the FDA, and the DEA still considers marijuana a Schedule I controlled substance, same as heroin.  A doctor cannot legally write a prescription for it. So technically, it is not a medicine.

The list of eligible conditions in many states includes variations of “chronic or severe pain.” In fact, in Colorado, 94 percent of all medical marijuana permits are for people who claim pain as the reason they need it. As of today, Illinois has not included “pain” as a qualifying condition, though it has been proposed. Of course, as of today, there are slightly more than 3000 people registered. It seems likely the list will have to expand for the medical marijuana program to survive. Room for abuse? Sure.

Myth:  You can’t get fired for smoking medical marijuana.  You can smoke at work.

Reality:  No you can’t smoke at work. And you still can get fired. According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, “While the state’s Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act prohibits employers from discriminating against a marijuana patient, it permits employers to drug test and to enforce zero-tolerance and drug-free workplace policies, as well as to discipline qualifying patients for violating those rules. As in most states where medical marijuana is legal, the Illinois law does not protect qualifying patients from being fired for failing a drug test, which can happen long after the high is gone.”

The courts have consistently supported employers’ rights to a drug-free workplace, including freedom from medical marijuana. The HR world has its hands full, though, because many with a permit for medical marijuana have it because of a health condition which may be protected by other privacy laws. The bottom line, though, is coming to work impaired is not allowed and employers have the legal right to enforce it.

Myth: Marijuana is not addictive.

Reality: They use the euphemistic term “cannabis use disorder.” As defined on  “A problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress. Typically includes a strong desire to take the drug, difficulties in controlling its use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to drug use than to other activities and obligations, increased tolerance, and sometimes a physical withdrawal state.” In fact, a recent article in Psychology Today notes, “Three of every ten Americans (30.6%) who used marijuana in the past year were categorized with a marijuana, or cannabis use disorder.” Is this addiction? It clearly meets my definition.

Legalized marijuana is inevitable.  Employers must be diligent or businesses will take a hit.  One way to make sure your workplace is safe is to implement a solid drug-free workplace program, complete with policy, training and testing. The return on investment can easily be $3 to $6 for every dollar spent.

Isn’t now a good time to evaluate your drug testing program. Or begin a new one. Ask us for help.