Navigating the Marijuana Minefield

"Keep on top of the laws, they are changing as we speak," advised Eldeen Pozniak, a panelist at Safety 2019's panel discussion on marijuana legalization.

Like many observers, I'm surprised at the speed with which voters and legislators in most U.S. states have legalized medical or recreational use of marijuana, sometimes both. These legalization measures have created a legal minefield for employers and their safety and HR personnel; just how unsettled the landscape is was made clear by an outstanding June 12 panel discussion at the American Society of Safety Professionals' Safety 2019 Conference and Exposition. To me, the discussion left as many questions unanswered as answered.

Calling the laws regarding legal medical marijuana a "crazy quilt," panelist Adele Abrams, president of the Law Office of Adele Abrams, PC, described some of the legalization measures enacted by 34 states and the District of Columbia and how courts are interpreting them. "Keep on top of the laws, they are changing as we speak," advised another panelist, Eldeen Pozniak of Pozniak Safety Associates, Inc. in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Thom Kramer, managing principal at LJB Inc. and an ASSP board member, moderated the discussion. The other two panelists were Dr. Marcos Iglesias, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer at Broadspire; and Stephanie Hopper, CEO of KSF Consulting in Denver, Colo., whose company is involved in the cannabis industry. Iglesias spoke most strongly about what he described as the problems legalizing marijuana is causing. When an audience member asked what test a safety professional or employer can conduct to prove a worker is impaired by marijuana, Iglesias explained that, unlike with alcohol, for marijuana there is no test. "There isn't one, and I doubt there will be one in the near future," he said. "That's not coming for many years for marijuana, if at all." He stressed that employers should focus on detecting and responding to impairment, regardless of its cause, rather than focusing on whether marijuana is causing it. "It's really about safety. It's not about the substance," he said.

Asked what safety professionals in the audience should advise their senior management to do in the face of legalization, Pozniak said, "If you have a drug and alcohol policy, change it to a 'fit for work' policy," defining what fitness for work is, identifying safety-sensitive positions at the company, and training managers to recognize impairment. Hopper recommended creating a "see something, say something" culture and one where workers will help one another, which will prevent cover-ups, she said.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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