How should workplaces
handle medical marijuana?


Q: Should a medical-marijuana patient be prevented
from using medical marijuana at work?

By Sarah Sidlow

When the leaves change color in Ohio this year, a few more of them may be green. The state’s medical marijuana law is expected to go into effect in September, allowing residents with any of 21 specified diseases and conditions to get a recommendation from a doctor to use marijuana as a treatment. Patients may receive the drug as a plant, an oil, a tincture, an edible, or a patch.

But as the Buckeye State embraces a changing landscape surrounding marijuana education and use, employers are left to determine how medical marijuana fits into the workplace. According to local news sources, Ohio’s medical marijuana law allows employers to prohibit the use of marijuana by workers, discipline workers for using marijuana, and refuse to hire applicants if they use it.

The onus is on the employer to decide upon a policy that best suits their business, their employees and their workplace environment. Pentaflex, a metal stamping plant in Springfield, told WHIO last year that they would take a hard line on employee use of medical marijuana. That’s largely due to the fact that companies like Pentaflex rely heavily on the use of heavy machinery. The company claims it’s a safety issue—someone impaired by the effects of medical marijuana—similar to one affected by heavy pain killers—might not be the person you want pulling the levers.

Yet others argue that an employee could be at least equally impaired by pain itself—and those workers are expected to proceed as normal. Take cancer survivors, or those who suffer from seizures. Many point to scientific studies that promote the idea that marijuana is not only non-addictive, but also effective at treating those illnesses, providing relief and a return to normalcy for medical-marijuana patients.

The argument goes that these folks are not likely to be cleared for heavy machinery anyway, and should be allowed to take their medication in the same way employees take their blood-pressure medicine or antibiotics. The State of Ohio has decided to recognize marijuana as a medical product, they argue, so users of medical marijuana should be treated like medical patients: treated, and unjudged.

Interestingly, the State of Ohio is still determining how they will address their own employees’ use of medical marijuana. The state currently has in place a Drug-Free Workplace Program, which complies with “provisions of the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 and any other federal and state laws, regulations, polices and collective bargaining agreements requiring substance abuse testing.”

To that end, those who are required to comply with federal law are presented with a very clear and absolute truth: marijuana is still illegal under federal law. How will federal employees at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, for example, be governed?

In Montgomery County, a new policy prohibits the use and even possession of medical marijuana during work hours and during lunch breaks. The use of it during off-hours has not yet been decided.


 “Hi!”
“No, wish I were.”

Medical Marijuana going up in smoke

By Marla Boone

At the risk of sounding like an enormous buzz-kill, I’m going to kill your buzz. A large portion of this debate has already been decided. As the Ohio legislature has decreed in House Bill 523, employers may prohibit the use of medical marijuana by workers, may discipline workers for using medical marijuana on the job, and may refuse to hire applicants if they do use medical marijuana. Those wishing not to have employees partaking of marijuana on the job won’t hire known marijuana users. That’s the easy part. The more difficult aspect is to think about those who are not taking that plastic cup into the bathroom under the watchful (and somewhat creepy) eye of an HR staffer. According to The Employment Law Daily, fifty-seven percent of employers conduct pre-hire drug tests. But only thirty-six percent perform drug tests on existing employees.

Conditions for which medical marijuana may be prescribed are: AIDS/HIV, Alzheimer’s, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis…Lou Gehrig’s disease), cancer, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, glaucoma, hepatitis C, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, chronic or intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, spinal cord disease or injury, traumatic brain injury, ulcerative colitis, and any other disease added at
a later date.

These are not boo-boos that can be healed with a kiss and a band-aid. These are devastating, debilitating, cruel diseases. The very nature of some dictate those suffering from them will probably not be among the gainfully employed. However, many of these conditions do not preclude having a job.

Suspending the topic of jobs for the moment, let’s discuss the side effects of marijuana. Tetrahydrocannabinol is usually, small mercies, abbreviated as THC. This is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s effects. THC is a fat-soluble substance. This means it is easily stored in the body and released into the blood stream. Because it can be stored in fat, it has a long half-life. Traces of THC can be found in the urine thirty days after exposure.

And what does THC do? Sensi Seeds advertises itself as the most comprehensive cannabis seed bank in the world. These are some of their comments about their product: long-term users of cannabis have an increased risk of cognitive impairments that persist beyond the “cessation of intoxication.” Acute cognition effects are related to memory, learning, and higher executive functions. This, it goes on, translates to a person under the influence of THC having an impairment in the ability to plan, solve problems, retain information, and cope with unexpected situations. “Executive function” was a term unknown to me. I consulted the Journal of Addiction Medicine, the extended reading of which will, ironically, make you want to drink. Executive functions, it explains, include attention, concentration, decision-making, impulsivity, inhibition, reaction time, risk-taking, verbal fluency, and working memory.

Now, back to jobs. Try, really try, to think of a job that would not be negatively impacted by an inability to solve problems. Would you want the person teaching your kids to have compromised impulsivity and inhibition? Based on recent driving experience, odds are the vehicle next to you on the interstate highway, about six feet from your head, is a semi tractor-trailer weighing 80,000 pounds, the legal maximum. Do you want the driver of that semi to be having doobie-induced attention deficit? Ponder the effects the lack of concentration and prolonged reaction time would have on an airline pilot. How about risk-taking? Once you are sealed in that silver tube you are at the utter mercy of the people in the cockpit. I used to do anesthesia for a living. Being heavily involved in aviation, I have many friends who are airline captains. One of them remarked to me, “You can harm only one person at a time. I can kill one hundred fifty-eight with a single bad decision.” Oh yes, let’s all book a flight on Spliff Airlines: “We’re High Before We Leave the Ground.”

Like many actions by our confused and confusing government, HB 523 flies right in the face of policies of the federal government. Thirty states plus the District of Columbia have made changes to their laws that allow the use of medical marijuana. Not so at the federal level. The Office of Personnel Management has issued new guidelines for federal employees. The 4.1 million people in the hire of the U.S. government are still prohibited from using or possessing marijuana in any form. The Department of Justice has promised a hands-off approach when enforcing individual states’ policies. There is no binding nature to this promise.

The need for medical marijuana is evident. But no one wants the guy building their next car (or computer or phone or house) to be under the influence while he does it.


Toke away

Letting sick workers use marijuana helps the boss’s bottom line

by Victor DeLaine

People who need medication in the workplace should be allowed to take it there. That should be true even if what the doctor prescribes is marijuana.

In fact, employers may soon have no choice. When it becomes legal at the federal level, marijuana will stand, as it should, on the same legal footing as other medications on which workers depend, such as insulin and antidepressants. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits workplace discrimination against the chronically ill, and requires employers to take reasonable steps to accommodate medical conditions that might otherwise handicap employees. It’s a good law, enacted 28 years ago by bipartisan majorities, signed by a Republican president, and beloved by both parties. It’s a law that reflects a strong national consensus that, on some things, it simply should not be up to the boss.

But federal law still criminalizes marijuana, so even after Ohio legalizes it, the boss will still have a choice. The only bosses who would choose not to allow medical marijuana are the ones who’ve been drinking the DEA’s Kool-Aid. For years, the feds have been filling our heads with the idea that marijuana leads to addiction, dulls the senses, and makes you a useless citizen. But they’re wrong. It’s not addictive, and a recent French study found that smoking marijuana is 10.7 times less likely than drinking alcohol is to cause a fatal car wreck. In fact, a 2006 study from the University of Missouri found that marijuana users had a lower risk of injury than did non-users. You read that right. The study suggests that marijuana use is better for workplace safety than stone-cold sobriety is.

Mind you, the proposal on the table is not to turn the whole workforce onto pot. Rather, the concern is only for those whose doctors prescribe it. Despite what you’re thinking, medical marijuana is not something prescribed with a wink and a nod for the benefit of healthy patients who just want a doctor’s excuse to smoke weed. Marijuana has numerous, well-documented, bona fide uses for calming spastic muscles, smoothing erratic neural connections, and helping people to endure horrible pain.

We’re talking about many, many people. There are 3.4 million Americans who suffer from epilepsy. There are 25 million who suffer from asthma. There are three million with glaucoma, 3.5 million with autism, 40 million with anxiety disorders, 30 million with anorexia and eating disorders, 12 million with AIDS, and untold millions suffering the effects of cancer, chemotherapy, chronic pain, and depression. Every last one of these sufferers could benefit from medical marijuana. As of now, our laws force all those unfortunates to depend on synthetic drugs (can you say “opioid”?) concocted in beakers by pharmaceutical monopolists and other promoters of pill-popping. Those synthetic drugs are responsible for more absenteeism, more workplace mishaps, and more wasted man-hours than marijuana ever will. Decriminalizing marijuana, a plant as green, pure, and natural as any in Creation, would free millions of Americans from the clutches of price-gouging patent-owners and medicinal robber-barons.

But marijuana cannot deliver these benefits if employers don’t allow their workers to use it. If they do allow it, the biggest beneficiaries may well be the employers themselves. Among those teeming victims of cancer, chronic pain, and other ills that flesh is heir to are many people with intelligence and skill who, but for their ailments, would be valuable employees. Marijuana would be a cheap, easy way to enable them to add their productive labor to the economy and to show up when scheduled. In 2013, Gallup estimated that workplace absenteeism was costing the private economy $84 billion in lost productivity, while Forbes reported findings putting the cost of unscheduled absenteeism at $3,600 a year for each wage-earner and $2,650 a year for each salaried worker. Workplace marijuana for those who need it can help turn those losses into gains by giving sick but skilled workers more reason to report for duty rather than stay home.

But the savings would not end there. Consider the costs employers must pay for health insurance, costs that Obamacare is driving ever higher. Workplace marijuana can drive down employers’ health-insurance bills by enabling employees to replace high-cost medications with a cheap, natural substitute that keeps those employees in their jobs. A July 2016 study found that legalizing marijuana in just a few states had already saved Medicare $165.2 million in prescription drug expenses. One need only extrapolate those savings nationally, to other states and to all insurers, to begin getting a sense of the savings employers can realize.

It’s easy to understand the reluctance of employers to admit pot-smokers into the workplace. Decades of conditioning have nurtured the myth that marijuana turns people into useless, giggling, drug-addicts. But a combination of compassion and education will eventually lead even the stodgiest bosses to see the benefits of workplace medical marijuana—benefits to their workforces, to their companies’ bottom lines, and
to our country.

Tags: , , , ,

Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Got an Opinion?

YourOpinionMatters

We are interested to hear what you think.  Please send us a message. [contact-form 4 “Opinion”]  

Springfield’s hidden gem

CoverHartman2

Referred to as an American Folk Art site, I didn’t know what I expected on my journey to Springfield’s Hartman […]

Debate 7/17: Flag on the Play

DebateBok

Q: Should persons with certain known behavioral tendencies such as suicide or violence be prohibited from owning guns? Legislatures across […]

Conspiracy Theorist 7/17: Hooray for Domino’s

Year after year, the same roads are torn up and road crews patch them. But they never really repair them. […]

On Your Marc 7/17: Good any day

First, a funny story. Larry Lee, the big tackle from Roth High School, for a number of reasons decided he […]

The Cult, Stone Temple Pilots, and Bush at Rose

CULT 2016 Tim Cadiente-2

“Rock and roll never forgets,” the classic rock song goes, and Billy Duffy, guitarist and founding member of the British […]