How Colorado handled marijuana in the workplace
DENVER, CO (WDTN) - There are just weeks left before Ohioans vote on whether or not to legalize marijuana. The measure would make it legal to grow, sell and smoke pot. Supporters say it would help the economy and take back the streets from drug dealers. Opponents say have concerns about how the law would be set up and how it would impact the state in the long-run.
We're continuing our series coverage from Colorado where voters legalized marijuana more than a year ago. We are looking at one of their biggest concerns when the drug became legal: weed in the workplace.
When marijuana became legal in Colorado more than a year ago, employers had a big concern: that everyone was suddenly going to come to work stoned.
Curtis Graves, an employment attorney who advises HR departments, fielded all sorts of questions.
"There was a lot of hysteria as soon as it passed. We did a survey that indicated drug testing was up across the boards. Particularly in hospitality and particularly in the mountain areas where we have resorts," said Graves.
Denver Metro's Chamber of Commerce also heard concerns.
"A number of our employers have drug-free workplaces and really important for the safety of the worker and customers that they'd be able to maintain that," said Denver Metro's Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Kelly Brough.
One of the jobs that carries the biggest concern-construction work.
"It is a safety sensitive area, you can't have a construction worker dropping an I-beam on somebody's head so they are the ones that tend to do the drug test," said Graves.
It was a grey area of the law that hadn't really been considered before. People who smoked marijuana and medical marijuana off-duty wanted to know if they were at risk of being fired from their job if caught.
The issue was taken up by Colorado's supreme court after a medical marijuana patient failed a random drug test and was fired. That court decided it was up to the boss.
"For the longest time the biggest question was, can I terminate someone who tests positive even if I have no knowledge that they are impaired at work? And the answer in Colorado and as far as i know in most other jurisdiction is still yes," said Graves.
But then the focus turned to employees who work for the federal government, where marijuana is still illegal. Most of those jobs require employees to pass drug tests. Currently, the only federally accepted one is urine, and marijuana can be detected in that for weeks.
Federal authorities are considering a new test that would collect oral fluids using a mouth swab. Graves says it's cheaper, harder to fake and the window of detection is shorter.
"With oral fluids testing it's a matter of 18-72 hours depending on the product that it's going to pick that up," said Graves.
He said since the legalization, many companies have changed their opinions when it comes to drug testing.
He says while some jobs need it, others are re-considering the pre-employment testing all together because they're running into trouble staffing jobs
"They know if they fire everyone who smokes a joint in their own time, they will need to shut down," said Graves.
Ohio's proposal says employers can still test their employees for marijuana but if someone uses medical marijuana it's a different story. The group behind the proposal says that would be treated like any other prescription drug use.
Graves said he advises clients in Colorado to come up with a drug policy for their office to make sure everyone understands the expectations. He says ultimately employers need to base discipline on performance, not just drug tests.
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