Marijuana and the Workplace

marijuana workplace use

Marijuana users may rejoice over the legalization of medical marijuana use in U.S. states and even recreational use of the said substance in others. Despite this, marijuana still remains as one of the controlled substances in the country. In this article, we will look into the impact of marijuana in the workplace.

Marijuana Legalization in the U.S.

As of July 2017, states that have enacted medical marijuana laws are:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington

With the legalization of cannabis, employers are anticipating work-related issues related to medical marijuana use among its employees.

One of the rising conflicts has something to do with drug testing. With the rise in popularity of marijuana use, companies see the need to implement drug testing policies for the sake of workplace safety and productivity. However, on the perspective of employees and job applicants, going through drug testing violates their right to privacy and the right to choose whatever they want to do in life.

Controlling the use of the substance while at work has contributed to a number of benefits that are enjoyed by both employer and employees. However, now that medical marijuana has been legalized, this has brought a new set of problems that employers need to handle.

marijuana form

Some of the questions that may arise in relation to the workplace include the following:

  • Should an employer be required to accommodate the use of medical marijuana?
  • Should an employer excuse an employee using recreational marijuana over the weekend?
  • Should truck drivers be given the same freedom to use marijuana?
  • What should be done if the employee fails a drug test?

These questions have become more difficult to handle, now that medical use of marijuana has been legalized in some states. For starters, disallowing individuals an opportunity to work due to marijuana use despite having the necessary skills required for a job may be considered a form of discrimination.

What can an employer do, if the intention is to keep a safe and healthy workplace for the employees?

Several U.S. states require accommodation for registered marijuana users, and refusing employment is an act of violating the individual’s rights. An employer cannot take any action against an employee because of his participation in a recognized program. Additionally, there are other states like Alaska, Colorado, District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington that have passed initiatives in legalizing the sale and distribution of recreational marijuana for individuals aged 18 and older.

Effects of Marijuana

Marijuana is one of the most controversial and debate-causing substances in the world. Scientists have found out that marijuana use can help relieve patients suffering from chronic pain, especially those who have been diagnosed with cancer. While marijuana as a medical breakthrough puts the drug into a more positive light, prolonged or unauthorized use of marijuana may lead to addiction. This may eventually become fatal to the individual.

There are several ways on how an individual may become extremely dependent on a drug, and some of these include the following:

  • Using more than the required amount of dose as prescribed by a physician
  • Engaging in recreational use, from which others would also gain access to marijuana prescribed to a legitimate patient in the family
  • Purchasing from the black market

The short-term effects of marijuana use include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Increased heart rate (risk of heart attack)
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Loss of sense of personal identity
  • Lowered reaction time
  • Panic
  • Problems with coordination (impairing safe driving or playing sports)
  • Severe anxiety, which includes being fearful that one is being watched or followed (paranoia).
  • Sexual problems or males (erectile dysfunction)
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Up to seven times more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections
  • Very strange behavior, seeing, hearing or smelling things that aren’t there, not being able to tell imagination from reality (psychosis)

Meanwhile, long-term effects of marijuana use include:

  • Addiction (about 9% of adults and 17% of people who started smoking as teens)
  • Antisocial behavior including stealing money or lying
  • Decline in IQ (up to 8 points if prolonged use started in adolescent age)
  • Financial difficulties
  • Greater chances of being unemployed or not getting good jobs
  • Impaired thinking and ability to learn and perform complex tasks
  • Increased welfare dependence
  • Lower life satisfaction
  • Poor school performance and a higher chance of dropping out
  • Potential development of opiate abuse
  • Relationship problems, intimate partner violence
  • Inability for women to conceive or may produce an offspring with developmental defects

marijuana plant leaf

Dangers of Marijuana Intoxication in the Workplace

The number of marijuana users is increasing rapidly, and the impact is increasingly noticeable in the workplace. Drug testing laboratories have reported an increase in positive results for both pre-employment drug testing and drug tests performed for other reasons.

Positive tests from applicants result to a refusal to get hired. For those who are already employed, implementing discipline – such as having to undergo rehabilitation or even facing termination – may be some of the consequences that the employee needs to face. An employee may be surprised with the harsh workplace penalty, but it is important for employers to have good reasons for enforcing a drug testing policy that includes marijuana.

Employees who use marijuana either for medical or recreational purposes should understand that most employers only want to provide a safe environment for everyone. In doing so, this would lead to a number of benefits.

When an employee reports to work intoxicated while performing his duties, this would result to:

  • Safety issues: Obviously, a person who can be highly intoxicated does not have the ability to perform tasks as expected. It is the most valid basis for banning marijuana since there is an increase in job accidents and injuries linked to the use of this substance.
  • Change in attitude: Since marijuana has the ability to alter brain functions, it affects the individual’s relationship towards family, friends, and co-workers. Any change in attitude can definitely affect the employee’s performance level, as well as his capacity to work peacefully. An employee who uses drugs may often find himself in a heated discussion with fellow employees or even the employer.

Medical Marijuana

Employees who use medical marijuana should be under the watchful eye of their employers. Employers need to carefully review each of the employee’s job requirements before taking any action as a result of medical marijuana use.

For instance, if an employee was proven to test positive for marijuana, the employer should ask the employee to verify that he is a participant in a recognized medical marijuana program. The employer then conducts further evaluation of the employment situation.

In states where medical marijuana use should be given accommodation, the employer should look at the specific requirements of the job. At the same time, the employer should look through any competing regulations that may apply in taking into consideration an employee’s use of medical cannabis.

In general, an employer should not allow an employee to be under the influence of marijuana while at work. However, an accommodation may be necessary depending on the nature of the job, as well as the safety and other sensitivities of the position.

When an employer has been notified that an employee is a medical marijuana user, the employer needs to be careful on how it uses the information given. The employer is notified that the employee is potentially disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or other similar state statutes. and has a serious health condition. This can be a very challenging situation to employers as they are faced with having to accommodate employees using medical cannabis. which can somehow take a toll on the performance of the employee.

Subsequently, an employee who goes beyond the amount of medical marijuana either intentionally or unintentionally puts the company at risk.

Recreational Marijuana

While employers of some states that allow recreational use of cannabis are experiencing difficulties, employers in Alaska, Colorado, and District of Columbia (all of which have implemented recreational marijuana laws) have some level protection. In these states, employers may not accommodate the use, sale or possession of marijuana in the workplace.

Providing clear information and enforcing a drug policy involving marijuana or other controlled substances while at work allow the employer to legally terminate an employee for recreational marijuana use. This dispels any fear or doubt on the part of the employer, since using cannabis is technically illegal under federal law. In short, no employer should tolerate any form of drug abuse in the workplace.

Workplace Drug Testing

construction workers marijuana workplace

One way of ensuring that employees are free from any illegal substance is by conducting a drug test. A drug test is a technical analysis of biological specimens such as blood, hair, saliva, sweat, and urine. The most common testing method used is the urine drug test.

The presence of drugs in the system can be determined using different types of drug tests, but the effectiveness of each drug testing method will depend on the detection period for each type of drug.

Substances Urine Hair Blood/Oral Fluids
Alcohol Up to 6 hours Up to 90 days 12 to 24 hours
Amphetamine 1-3 days Up to 90 days 12 hours
Barbiturates 1 day Up to 90 days 1-2 days
Cannabis Infrequent users: 7-10 Days; Heavy users:30 to 100 days Up to 90 days 2 to 3 days in blood, up to 2 weeks in blood of heavy users
Cocaine Infrequent users: 2-5 days; Heavy users: 7-10 days Up to 90 days 2-10 days
MDMA 3-4 days Up to 90 days 3-4 days
PCP 3 to 7 days for single use; up to 30 days in chronic user Up to 90 days 1-3 days


Urine drug test is most commonly used practically because it is the least expensive and least intrusive type of drug test. However, based on the table shown above, using hair drug testing allows for detection of long-term use of illegal substances.

It should be noted, however, that the presence of any kind of drug in the system may be affected by certain factors such as:

  • Age
  • Metabolism
  • Amount of use
  • Frequency of use
  • Type of drug used

Benefits of Using Hair Drug Testing for Marijuana

Some companies are now considering the use of hair drug testing over urine drug testing for obvious reasons such as:

  • It does not allow the users to “clean up” early
  • It is more reliable
  • It is impossible to cheat
  • It has a longer detection period
  • No special shampoo can remove traces of drugs from the hair follicle

Process of Hair Drug Testing

A piece of hair near the root is cut at least 1.5 inches long. Since the average number of days that a hair grows each month is half an inch, the 1.5 inches needed should cover the past three months.

If the head hair is too short to achieve the required length, it is also possible to use body hair. Using this specimen can have a longer detection period, which can stretch to 90 days.

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