Challenges of Legalized Marijuana
We are witnessing a major shift in societal and legal views of marijuana, causing challenges of legalized marijuana. Like it or not, today and for the years to come the drug and alcohol testing industry will be faced with challenging issues as well as with business opportunities as our country grapples with a shift in attitude towards marijuana.
Contradictions and Paradox:
- Two states, Washington and Colorado, allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use, and regulate the legal sale of marijuana.
- Twenty-three states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for medical use.
- Meanwhile, the Federal DEA continues to list marijuana as a Schedule One drug, and marijuana possession continues to be illegal under Federal law.
Company Policy Changes…?
Federal government and U.S. Dept. of Transportation drug testing regulations prohibit marijuana use altogether based on the rational that marijuana is illegal according to Federal law. Companies that are covered by Federal regulations must prohibit marijuana use altogether. If an employee tests positive, the question of impairment is irrelevant; the employee has used an illegal drug.
Contrast workplace policies for illegal drugs with policies for alcohol use. Because alcohol is not illegal, companies may not prohibit alcohol use altogether; they may only require that an employee may not work while impaired by alcohol intoxication.
NORML, an organization with a mission to legalize the responsible use of marijuana, provides a model workplace substance abuse police that suggests what the future might look like. NORML’s model policy would “prohibit employees from reporting to work or working while under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs that adversely affect the employee’s ability to safely perform his or her job duties.” This model policy treats marijuana use in the same way that workplace substance abuse policies address alcohol use today.
Looking for Answers…
If we assume that at some point the Federal government legalizes marijuana, the issue for the workplace and for operating vehicles becomes impairment and/or intoxication. This raises several important questions.
- What testing methodologies will best determine impairment? Oral fluid seems to be a good candidate because it detects the active THC molecule. The fact that THC metabolites can be detected in urine for many days after using the drug becomes a disadvantage for urine testing when trying to determine impairment and intoxication.
- What specific molecules must a marijuana test detect to indicate impairment and/or intoxication? Current urine tests detect THC metabolites, rather than the active THC parent drug. Will the presence of metabolites be adequate to determine intoxication?
- What cut-off levels will establish impairment? Drunk driving laws in the U.S. establish 0.08 BAC as the legal limit, twice the prohibited level of 0.04 BAC that DOT uses. The previous DUI level was 0.10%. Will cut-off levels for marijuana intoxication be as lenient?
Those of us in the drug and alcohol testing industry are uniquely situated to inform the discussion, raise questions and suggest answers as our society confronts the changes in attitude and legality of marijuana use. Interesting times, indeed.