Cannabis and Workplace Drug Testing - Common Misconceptions

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The legalization of marijuana has led to significant shifts in public perception over recent years. According to a 2021 Gallup poll, 68% of Americans supported the legalization of marijuana, reflecting growing acceptance of its use. This shift in public opinion may contribute to the belief that marijuana should be removed from workplace drug testing panels. Many individuals argue that marijuana use outside of working hours should not be grounds for employment-related consequences.

Common Misconceptions 

There are several misconceptions regarding marijuana and its effects on workplace safety, including the push for removing marijuana from drug testing panels.

1. Marijuana isn't harmful like alcohol – The level of impairment from marijuana vs. alcohol is still debated because the effects vary between individuals more than with alcohol. Effects can change due to tolerance, differences in smoking technique, and different absorptions. However, both substances impair cognitive and motor functions.

An analysis of 60 studies concluded that “marijuana causes impairment in every performance area that can reasonably be connected with safe driving of a vehicle, such as tracking, motor coordination, visual functions, and particularly complex tasks that require divided attention". Employers should be concerned about their employees' use of any substance that may jeopardize workplace safety.

Additionally, tools to track impairment by alcohol, such as a Breath Alcohol Test (BAT), exist and are used by employers today to prevent impairment on the jobsite. There is no device today that currently tracks impairment from marijuana and as a result most employers have established a zero-tolerance policy where legally allowable.

2. Marijuana use only affects the user – Marijuana impairment can have serious consequences for not just the user but also their coworkers, customers, and the general public. Employers have a duty to maintain a safe working environment for all stakeholders, and this includes addressing marijuana use that could lead to accidents, injuries, or compromised job performance.

3. Legalization implies safety – The legalization of marijuana in many states does not automatically imply that it is safe for use in all situations, especially in the workplace. Some states have legal exceptions allowing employers to test safety-sensitive employees for marijuana, and all states are subject to federal DOT testing requirements for covered employees. Furthermore, legal substances such as alcohol and prescription medications can still pose risks when used irresponsibly or in certain work environments.

Employer Solutions  

Since medical marijuana laws differ by state, establishing a drug testing policy can be quite complex at times. DISA Global Solutions recommends employers implement the following to better protect their company:

  • Employee Education  

Employers should focus on educating their workforce about the potential risks associated with marijuana use and its impact on workplace safety. By providing accurate information and promoting open dialogue, employers can help their employees make responsible choices that prioritize safety and productivity. Implement a clear and concise written drug testing policy while keeping them informed of any new laws or provisions.

  • Reasonable Suspicion  

Additionally, employers should also train supervisors on reasonable suspicion drug testing. Oftentimes, reasonable suspicion drug testing is included as part of a company's comprehensive drug testing policy. Reasonable suspicion drug testing allows employers to administer a drug test to an employee under direct observation and based on evidence of the employee's drug use (e.g., signs, symptoms, and behaviors). Besides the pre-employment screening, this is an additional layer of protection that continues to protect employees after they have been hired, as well as prevent them from using drugs in the future.

  • Medical Disclosure Policy 

With a medical disclosure policy, employees are required to notify their supervisors when taking any prescribed drug (marijuana or opioids) that may impair them at work. This helps to ensure that an employee's prescription and over-the-counter drug use do not negatively affect their ability to perform job duties or expose others to danger. These policies should be reviewed and updated regularly, as there are several federal regulations and state laws that prohibit employers from inquiring about an employee’s status as a prescription drug user. The Rehabilitation Act, the ADA, and many state disability laws prohibit asking disability-related questions. These inquiries are legal, however, if they are both related to the job and necessary for the business.

  • Documentation Process 

Documenting behaviors or actions that can lead to reasonable suspicion will help to support your claim in the event of any negative action you may take.

Understanding public perceptions and misconceptions surrounding marijuana use and workplace drug testing is crucial for employers considering whether to remove marijuana from their drug testing panels. By addressing these misconceptions and prioritizing education and open communication, employers can make informed decisions that prioritize the safety and well-being of their employees.

Ultimately, maintaining marijuana testing in drug test panels is an essential part of creating a safe and productive work environment. It is crucial for employers to keep the lines of communication open, educate their workforce on the potential risks and consequences associated with marijuana use, and implement clear policies that protect both their employees and the organization. In doing so, employers can foster a culture of safety and responsibility, ensuring a secure and thriving work environment.

About DISA Global Solutions  

Founded in 1986, DISA is the industry-leading provider of employee screening and compliance services. Headquartered in Houston, with more than 35 offices throughout the U.S. and Canada, DISA’s comprehensive scope of services includes drug and alcohol testing, background screening, occupational health, and transportation compliance. DISA assists employers in making informed staffing decisions while building a culture of safety in their workplace.

DISA Global Solutions aims to provide accurate and informative content for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The reader retains full responsibility for the use of the information contained herein. Always consult with a professional or legal expert.