Editorial: Marijuana in the workplace

To say the last decade has been one of immense change and upheaval for business would be an understatement.

The internet and social and electronic medias have shrunk the world, put information at our fingertips, and brought strangers and potential customers together like never before. Business has changed models through vast online shopping platforms and growing numbers of employees working remotely, and has wrestled with identity theft, data breaches and privacy concerns.

Startups launch while longtime vanguards wither. The pace of change and decision making has been breathtaking.

And now comes the latest challenge - pot and the workplace.

Businesses (and government agencies) large and small must be prepared because when recreational marijuana use becomes legal in Illinois in six weeks, there will be a ripple effect caused by people who can go to a store, buy marijuana and light up in their free time.

"Everyone is freaked out about this new law, excited about it; they think it's going to be real revolutionary and incredibly impactful in the workplace," says Mary Lynn Fayoumi, president and CEO of Downers Grove-based HR Source. "And a few years out, it's just not that big of a deal. Everyone gets used to dealing with it."

Until then, it will mean business owners, human resource experts, corporate managers and employees of all stripes should seek answers to a host of complex issues and questions about how to adjust. Experts advise them to prepare by:

• Reviewing drug-related policies to ensure they fit the organization's culture and set clear expectations.

• Training managers to spot marijuana intoxication, which is different from alcohol intoxication. It's tricky because marijuana is metabolized at different rates by each person meaning impairment can persist long after THC is no longer detectable in the blood, and conversely, marijuana can stay in the system for weeks so testing positive doesn't necessarily mean someone is impaired.

• Watching the courts for challenges that could cause shifts. For example, experts agree the line for what type of marijuana drug testing result qualifies as impairment is likely to be tested in the courts.

Also keep in mind, while pot will be legal in Illinois, it's a prohibited drug at the national level. That means certain transportation workers, federal employees and people employed by companies with government contracts will have to follow federal laws.

It's clear there's no one-size-fits-all approach. Some workplaces will keep strict anti-drug policies, others won't drug test at all.

How should your workplace respond? Now is the time to figure it out.

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