Safety and OSHA News

How do new marijuana laws affect workplace safety?

Voters in two states have approved the legalization of small amounts of recreational marijuana. Also, 17 states and the District of Columbia now allow medical pot. Does this require changes in companies’ workplace drug policies?

In a few words, most likely, no.

There are two reasons:

  • The new laws specifically say that companies can still have certain drug-use policies for their employees, and
  • Federal law still prohibits any possession of marijuana.

Colorado’s new law says the following:

“Nothing in this Section is intended to require an employer to permit or to accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale or growing of marijuana in the workplace or to affect the ability of employers to have policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees.”

In other words, if an employer in Colorado has a zero-tolerance drug policy, it can refuse to hire an applicant or it can fire a current employee for using pot.

Employment attorney Mike Subit, who argued a medical marijuana case before the Washington Supreme Court, says under that state’s new law, workers aren’t protected from being fired for using pot.

A Seattle TV station checked in with some large employers in the state to see if the law would change their employee drug policies:

  • Boeing, which has federal contracts, said use of marijuana by its employees is still prohibited regardless of state law, and
  • Costco says nothing will change; its drug testing requirement for being hired will continue.

Regarding states with medical marijuana laws, the highest courts in California, Montana, Oregon and Washington have ruled that employers don’t have to accommodate medical pot use.

The Secretary of the Commonwealth in Massachusetts says its new medical marijuana law won’t require employers to accommodate use by employees.

Even with such reassurances for employers, the questions surrounding Colorado’s and Washington’s new marijuana legalization laws may become moot. The federal government may prohibit the state laws from going into effect at all.

What are your thoughts on the legalization of marijuana, particularly how it affects the workplace? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • VS

    Thank you Safety News Alert for posting this article. Election night was the first time I heard about these laws in Colorado and Washington. I wondered whether or not businesses would be required to change their drug policies to accomodate marijuana users. It’s good to see that the wording of the law addressed that issue. I don’t work in Colorado or Washington, but my company does. A lot of our employees travel state to state for work.

  • Willy

    I do not think it should be allowed in the workplace but I do think if someone wants to smoke at home there shouldn’t be a problem.
    Beware though, although the affects of smoking marijuana doesn’t last more than a few hours after you stop smoking, the drug can still be detected in the bloodstream and hair for weeks after.

  • George

    Dodged another bullet and avoided the real issue of establishing an objective definition of sobriety and required performance levels. Does it really matter if an individual is under performing due to incompetence, drinking, smoking, snorting, shooting up, staying up all night, taking a combination of prescription drugs, working 3 jobs, being too old, abusing red bull, using bath salts, yada yada yada. Workplace rules have become a surrogate for the failings of the pulpit, law enforcement and society in general. Why not apply six sigma principles to this issue and actually deal with it.

  • Willy

    George, I disagree with your logic. And by your statement you obviously have nothing to do with trying to have a safe environment in the workplace. That’s what those rules are for. To try to provide protection to the workers who care about themselves, their employment, and the others around them from the ones that abuse themselves and don’t care if their actions happen to hurt themselves or the others around them.

  • HR Colorado

    I have no problem with employees using marijuana as a recreational drug, however, they cannot be stoned at work. Ending the prohibition on marijuana is long overdue but the state of Colorado has a huge task ahead of them concerning regulating the drug. It’s going to be an interesting time over the next several months while the state sorts this out.

  • George

    Willy, You obviously did not get my point. Of course I care about having a safe work environment. Let me paint you a picture that perhaps you can understand. A cop stops Mario Andretti and gives him a breathalyzer, he tests .08 and goes straight to jail for DUI and probably gets permanently barred from the racetrack even though he can probably drive circles around the cop himself on his best day. A couple of minutes later the same cop is called to the scene of an accident where a senior on his way to Sunday service confused the gas pedal for the brake and ran over the safety manager from your facility who was wearing a reflective vest and safety shoes while on a crosswalk. The cop gives him the same test and he comes up with 0.00. He gives him a ticket for reckless driving, but he may keep his license and the insurance company takes care of the rest.
    An objective method of testing driving ability may have exactly the opposite results. Of course I exaggerated to make my point. The safety manager was not wearing a reflective vest while working around traffic and the company gets fined by OSHA and the safety man loses his job. That’s why we have those workplace safety rules you know.

  • VS

    I was looking at the question from a Safety Manager’s viewpoint. I don’t haven’t smoked marijuana since I joined the Marines 30 years ago and even if legal I doubt I would start. However as a Safety Manager, I have the responsibilities to the company I’m employed with.
    I really don’t care what people do on their off hours, although I do warn that overindulging in alcohol over the weekend may affect them come Monday morning. The difference between alcohol and marijuana, from my perspective, is that you can test someone for alcohol if you suspect that they are impaired by it. There is no test that I’m aware of to detect whether a person is impaired by marijuana at a specific time. If someone were drunk 3 days ago, but hasn’t drank in the mean time, then you can discount that person being impaired. If a person was smoking marijuana 3 days ago, it’s presence still shows up in his system and may be misinterpreted to believing they are impaired now. That’s where I have the questions about it.

  • Willy

    Yes George, But it was Mario own fault that he received the penalty he got because he chose to drink more than he should have which could have caused harm to others in the process. He was just thinking about himself. The old guy accidently stepped on the wrong pedal. He didn’t do it on purpose. Mario drank on purpose, got behind the wheel with no regard for the safety of others.

  • paduke

    10,000 years noone has died from an OVERDOSE of marijuana! How many have died from an overdose of alcohol? How many families have been ruined because of an alcoholic parent or a drunk driver? Marijuana is not addictive and has never been proven to be! Alcohol has! Marijuana is has numerous medical uses alcohol can sterialize a surgical instrument! The difference is marijuana is illegal and alcohol is not. It’s time this country come out of the propaganda era and legalize it’s use or outlaw alcohol and ban it from use. Racism and bias got this drug outlawed by declaring that testing has proven that this drug causes murder, insanity and death!
    As for the effects of marijuana, they have been proven to last only a few hours with no residual effects(no hangover). Personally i would rather work next to powder monkey setting charges in a mine that had smoked pot the night before rather than work with someone with a hangover from over indulging in alcohol the previous night!!!

    Man made booze god made pot who do you trust?????

  • Willy

    Well put Paduke, especially the last line. This could also be said about pain medication.

  • Robert K.

    If you smoke pot and work at the Department of Motor Vehicles, I don’t think it would make any difference either way.

    However, when it comes to operating machinery or doing work that requires your attention, then the use of any substance is a no no. I agree with Boeing, they can’t afford the risk of someone using, whether it was the night before or not.

    If a person comes in hung over and it interferes with their work, they get let go too.

    I’ve seen people that I first met weren’t drug users and be good performers, to start using Pot and after using for awhile become lethargic and their performance declined.

  • orison squirrel

    Ive quit many jobs because I couldn’t tolerate the football drunks coming in the next day whining.. and how they are so arrogant on fridays bragging how drunk they are going to get tonight begin Friday. Ive very little relationships with people because I cant stand drunks, and drunks are acceptable in this sick society and cannabis users are not.. look up some the stats on the drunk cops fleeing the scene of crimes , killing people even.. thats acceptable.

  • john

    As I read these posts, (having been on both sides of smoking) I can tell who was stoned while writing…think about that

  • John

    I was a heavy user (several times a day, every day) and it took a month for me to test clean, with a urine test. i’m now at a point where i may smoke once, once a week (i.e. smoke friday night) and can pass a do-it-yourself urine test monday morning. My point, a responsible, recreational user, should be able to unwind on a friday night, and have nothing to worry about monday morning. however if you spend the whole weekend unwinding, or every night after work for that matter, how does that make you any different than the alchoholic that spends every possible moment outside of work drinking? remember, there is more to life than drinking or smoking, but, within the law, or work place, you should not be crucified for “a night out”. and if it is just “one night” you should not be concerned, because you know you’re responsible. just my two cents. as for pre-employment, same applies, if you haven’t spent your whole between job time getting high with your friends, then you should have no problems getting a job. and if you have, it is going to show.