It seems we’re heading closer to more U.S. states making marijuana legal, even if the existing ones aren’t perfectly delineated on what’s allowed. If you happen to live in Washington State where marijuana was made legal a couple of years ago, a major mistake occurred on determining how it applied to the workplace. Unfortunately, nothing was made specific on how marijuana use is protected in workplaces, including for after-hours use. That’s led to some confusion there about what kind of policy should be made about anyone using marijuana while on the job, or at least after work hours.
Since the law went into effect, the lack of any specifics on how to manage marijuana in the workplace has led to superiors creating their own policies. And that might have been the point of the law in the first place since it could have created some troubling situations allowing people to use marijuana while doing an important job.
No doubt other workplaces around the country have thought about what might happen if marijuana becomes legalized in every state eventually. There seems to be some inevitability to that within at least the next decade, even if most states will no doubt take Washington’s lead and let workplace leaders decide their own drug policies.
But how should Washington (plus California and Colorado) take on marijuana in the workplace? Should they still allow it during after hours, and will drug testing lead to problems in keeping people employed?
The Reality of Drug Use While on the Job
The University of Washington Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute says that close to 10 million U.S. workers over the age of 18 were addicted to some kind of drug or alcohol over the last several years. With percentage hovering near 20% in the amount of those addicts causing fatal injuries on the job, you can see why Washington’s legalization of weed is letting the workplace make their own decisions.
There could be some arguments from marijuana users, though, that it wouldn’t affect their performance since some of them use in moderation and for many years. Nevertheless, Washington reminds all users there what marijuana can still do in most people. For jobs that require extensive thinking or memory skills, marijuana already impairs this extensively. Particularly when you need to have people present themselves in a businesslike way, we all know marijuana is going to decrease the way a person walks and talks.
Worst of all, it’s going to decrease alertness when just about every job is going to require staying awake to make it worth anyone’s time. Regardless, how will you argue these statistics with someone who claims they can function normally?
Much of this may prove problematic when drug testing is involved and marijuana is found in the body from use outside of the job’s normal work hours.
How Long Marijuana Stays in the Body
Marijuana usually stays in the urine for up to a week if the person uses just occasionally. Plus, if they use regularly, it can stay in a person’s body for months, giving some major problems if you introduced a strict drug testing policy. How can a state that legalizes marijuana justify doing accurate drug testing when the chances are good the person uses marijuana during their free time?
This may end up becoming an underreported issue in Washington and Colorado. It could ultimately lead to legal entanglements if a workplace tells an employee they can’t have marijuana in their system while working, despite the drug staying in the body for so long. Telling employees not to use marijuana for weeks in their off time will obviously collide with the legalization law and inevitably lead to lawsuits.
How big of a problem it really becomes depends on how many people use marijuana regularly in Washington, California, and Colorado. Based on large turnouts for 4/20 Day, it may be more than anyone really knows. What that’s doing to affect their jobs and job performance is something we could be seeing plenty analysis of in the near future.
Keeping this in mind should perhaps be a policy of your own workplace if you live in a state that might be on the cusp of legalizing marijuana. There may come a time when drug testing for marijuana will have to be ignored in fear of colliding with a legalization law. At the same time, use on the job will likely be prohibited just to prevent the worst possible scenarios. Regardless, lingering marijuana in the body could be a future factor in determining healthy job performance in a time when we all depend on what other people do to keep the world turning.