Utah is among more than three dozen states that have approved cannabis consumption for either medical or recreational use. In Utah’s case, it is medical only. Furthermore, the state is like many others that still allow employers to make their own policies regarding consumption. Safety concerns are in play here.
Both private and public sector employers bristle at the idea of cannabis in the workplace for safety reasons. In theory, their concerns are legitimate. But are there really safety issues relating to cannabis in practical terms?
Safety Concerns with Other Drugs
The question of safety in a practical sense is a legitimate one. Take cannabis off the table for one minute and consider other drugs. Companies are legitimately concerned about maintaining a safe workplace when employees might be using drugs like heroin, cocaine, and even alcohol. Thus, random drug testing is conducted by some industries.
Occupations involving dangerous equipment, chemicals, etc. are especially risky when employees are impaired. That is why truck drivers undergo random drug testing. You don’t want people driving big rigs on the interstate under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Likewise, you wouldn’t want them driving under the influence of cannabis.
The other side of that coin involves those occupations for which safety concerns are minimal. An office job consisting primarily of sitting behind a computer and manipulating data is a perfect example. But then there is the question of performance.
Typical Prescription Drug Policies
Companies prohibit the use of illicit drugs in the workplace for obvious reasons. Not only are they concerned about safety and performance, but they also have liability concerns to deal with. But what about prescription medications? What about alcohol?
A typical prescription drug policy allows employees to utilize medications on the job as long as such medications do not impair productivity. Utah has applied that principle to public sector employment for medical cannabis users.
Their policy was just implemented this past year as the result of a firefighter suing his employer after attempts to discipline him for obtaining a medical cannabis card. The state says that medical cannabis now needs to be treated like any other prescription drug in the workplace. As long as it doesn’t inhibit performance, public sector employers cannot prohibit it.
Employers Face a Conundrum
Looking at all sides of the equation shows that employers face a real conundrum. Cannabis is legal in thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia. It is still illegal at the federal level. Furthermore, state laws distinguish between medical and recreational cannabis.
Utahmarijuana.org says the Beehive State’s prohibition against recreational marijuana eliminates some of the problems employers face. They can absolutely discipline employees who use cannabis recreationally. They also have the right to create workplace policies prohibiting medical cannabis for safety reasons.
The question is this: how often do legitimate safety concerns arise in the workplace? If such concerns are rare, do employers still need restrictive policies in place? Some would argue yes. They would argue that the policies are that which keep safety incidents to a minimum.
A Chicken or Egg Question
What we ultimately have is a chicken or egg question. Do workplace policies implemented to prevent any and all cannabis consumption directly lead to a lower incidence of safety concerns in the workplace? Or are those safety concerns organically limited because very few people attempt to work while impaired?
It doesn’t seem hard to figure it out one way or the other. Until someone does, there will be persistent questions over whether anti-cannabis workplace policies are needed. Some say yes; others say no. What do you think?