Pubdate: Sat, 12 Apr 2014
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2014 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Trevor Hughes

Pot and the Workplace:


In Colorado and Washington, the Legal-Marijuana Experiment Wafts 
Uncomfortably into the Office

DENVER - Last month, Colorado diner owner Mark Rose posted an unusual 
job description: "Looking for part time experienced breakfast cook. 
Pays well, must be friendly and a team player, could turn into a full 
time gig by summer. 420 friendly a must."

With that public declaration, Rose put himself squarely in the camp 
of employers acknowledging that marijuana use is perfectly legal in 
Colorado. Perhaps more significant, it also puts him in the camp of 
employers who officially don't care if their employees use pot 
off-duty. The phrase "420" is shorthand for someone who uses marijuana.

Rose owns Dot's Diner on the Mountain in the pot-friendly mountain 
town of Nederland, Colo., just west of Boulder. He says he wanted to 
hire a marijuana-friendly employee to ensure he didn't have to deal 
with someone who might complain about his own pot use.

Legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington state is sparking new 
conflicts between employers trying to maintain drug-free workplaces 
and workers who say they're being punished for their off-duty 
indulgences. Nearly half the states now legalize some sort of 
marijuana use, either for medical purposes or purely for fun.

"I imagine there will be a great deal of upheaval in the future," 
says Curtis Graves, a staff attorney with the Mountain States 
Employers Council, which advises companies on workplace issues. He 
added, "The law is going to be in flux for another 10 years."

Twenty states now permit the use of marijuana for medical reasons, 
but employers in those states are under no legal obligation to allow 
any kind of pot use in the workplace. Colorado has a law that says 
workers cannot be fired for legal activities while off duty, but the 
state's courts also have said marijuana use isn't lawful because the 
federal government considers it an illegal drug.

The result: More employers are testing workers before hiring and 
continuing random drug tests, says Tiffany Baker, co-owner of the 
Denver DNA and Drug Center, which provides employers with 
drug-testing services. "I think big companies were already testing 
anyway," she says. "I think small companies are ... now more likely 
to send their workers over."

"Employers have total power in this arena," Graves says. "At this 
point, the employer can do anything they want to do."

In Washington state, which is still developing its retail marijuana 
system, there's been little change, says Jenifer Lambert, a vice 
president of the employment agency Terra Staffing Group, which places 
about 5,000 workers a year. She says manufacturers and companies that 
work in federally regulated areas such as interstate commerce and 
aerospace continue to test job applicants for drug use. Only one of 
about 500 companies that Terra works with has relaxed its rules.

Lambert says she expects to see increasing conflicts as marijuana 
becomes more socially acceptable. She says it's ironic because 
workers rarely complain about a smoke-free workplace that bans cigarette use.

At the same time, she says, some prospective workers are smoking 
themselves into a corner by using legal marijuana. She says the 
company doesn't track how many prospective employees are failing drug 
tests but says there's an increase of people admitting they won't pass.

"It's sort of a Wild West scenario. It's very, very tricky," Lambert 
says. "I feel badly when someone comes to us and doesn't understand 
the implication of their pot smoking."


Office manager Dawn Owens, 47, knows all too well what would happen 
if she got caught using marijuana to ease her migraines. Instead, she 
takes prescription drugs because those are allowed, even though she 
feels far less able to work effectively.

"It would literally take two to three puffs off a joint and my 
headache would be gone within one to two minutes," Owens says.
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