I came across this tweet recently that speaks volumes regarding marijuana laws in the U.S.
— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) June 11, 2016
While marijuana isn’t legal in every state, public opinion about marijuana is changing. And for businesses and employers, this means we need to stay on top of what’s happening. To give us some insight about what’s taking place with marijuana laws, I asked Dr. Todd Simo, chief medical review officer with HireRight, if he would share his expertise and fortunately, he said yes.
Dr. Simo, I’ve heard the title medical review officer (MRO) for years and I’m sure that I don’t know everything the role entails. Tell us a little bit about what a MRO is responsible for.
[Dr. Simo] MROs are licensed physicians responsible for receiving and reviewing laboratory results generated by an employer’s drug testing program and evaluating medical explanations for certain drug test results. MROs must ensure the accuracy and integrity of the drug testing process, providing quality assurance reviews and determining if there is a legitimate explanation for any positive, substituted, adulterated or invalid test results. They must also ensure that test results are reported in a timely manner to employers, while protecting the confidentiality of the drug testing information and ensuring compliance with all federal, state and local laws.
MROs enhance the validity and reliability of the employer’s overall workplace drug testing program. Their review helps ensure fairness to the donor and offers more protection to the employer in case of later litigation due to a ‘positive’ drug test where the employee has been suspended or fired or an applicant not hired.
It seems like public opinion is shifting where the use of marijuana is concerned. What trends are you seeing with regard to marijuana?
[Dr. Simo] We’re certainly seeing wider acceptance – of medical marijuana across the country. This acceptance is based on the true intent of medical marijuana, compassionate care for profoundly ill or terminal patient where no other treatment is available. However, in the real world, medical marijuana is causing new challenges for employers since younger and younger people are being approved for medical marijuana with less severe medical problems.
With this in mind, employers who conduct drug testing are realizing they need a more explicit screening policy for medical marijuana use, although many aren’t quite sure what to do. In this year’s HireRight Employment Screening Benchmark Report, we found:
- Only 5 percent of employers say they accommodate medical marijuana use and over half say they don’t have a policy either way.
- The number of those who do not accommodate nor have a plan to in the next year dropped almost 15 percentage points in the last year, signaling more employers may be considering this in the next year.
With disparate state laws, developing a coherent and sustainable policy can be a challenge. But it’s still a DEA Schedule 1 drug and going without any rule could be asking for trouble. It’s important for employers to have a policy in place – for hiring, risk mitigation and more – that reflects and balances company culture, responsibilities and state regulations.
Okay, so there’s “medical” marijuana and “recreational” marijuana. What’s the difference?
[Dr. Simo] Medical marijuana and recreational marijuana serve different purposes and have separate legal classifications. Those using medical marijuana are doing so for health reasons and have been recommended by a physician. Recreational marijuana is just that, recreational. Marijuana has gained more acceptance for medical use than for recreational use, with 24 states and the District of Columbia having legalized medical marijuana while only four states legally allow for recreational use. Fourteen (14) states are currently considering legalization measures, so these numbers are sure to change in the near future.
Still, medical marijuana is a controlled substance. But if it were legal everywhere, why should employers be concerned?
[Dr. Simo] Employers should be concerned for a few reasons. First, employers in more safety-conscious industries like transportation, health care and manufacturing must consider the nature of the job and what’s necessary for risk mitigation. Widespread marijuana use among employees who have the ability to affect public safety could pose serious problems.
Even in more white-collar, less safety-conscious industries, marijuana use can have an impact on productivity. There are numerous statistics out there around how drug use can lead to increased workers’ compensation claims, higher medical costs and inefficiencies in productivity, proving that drug use is not just a matter of safety, but can affect employers and employees in a variety of ways.
It’s up to the employer to set the standards for what’s acceptable and what’s not, considering job responsibilities and corporate culture, since marijuana use, even if legal, can affect a company’s reputation, work output and the well-being of all stakeholders involved.
The legalization of marijuana would present a very tactical issue – identification of impairment. Urine drug screening identifies a metabolite of marijuana in a repository; therefore, you cannot extrapolate a level of impairment (like you can with breath/blood alcohol testing). Oral fluid testing may be able to give you a rough estimate of time of use and impairment, but there is no industry standard that can be referenced. Functionally, the legalization of marijuana will cause employers and society as a whole a great deal of issues.Marijuana 101: What #HR Pros Need to KnowClick To Tweet
Last question: For HR professionals in states where there’s a ballot initiative regarding marijuana, is there a place where they can learn more?
[Dr. Simo] Here are several resource on medical marijuana in the workplace:
My thanks to Dr. Simo and the HireRight team for sharing their expertise. It used to be that we only had to remember one thing about marijuana – it was illegal. Now, it’s a bit more complicated. Organizations need to stay current. And even if your organization doesn’t operate in a state that permits medical marijuana use, that doesn’t mean candidates and employees don’t have exposure. Clear communication is essential.1