CORNELL UNIVERSITY MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
FOR RELEASE: Feb. 19, 2018
Marijuana at work: What employers need to know
ITHACA, N.Y. – As states legalize medical or recreational marijuana, employers, employees and unions are asking how to keep people safe in the workplace.
Some of them, including the Center for Occupational & Environmental Medicine in Western New York, are turning to Nellie Brown of the ILR School.
“When I started looking at this, several things really jumped out at me,” said Brown, a certified industrial hygienist and lead programs manager at The Worker Institute at Cornell University.
Marijuana use can cause drowsiness, lack of concentration and impaired learning and memory, but these effects wear off 48 hours after use, she said.
Brown said that the drug tests most employers rely on only detects the compound in marijuana that remains in the liver a month after use. A test for more recent use would be much more expensive.
“You could have a medical marijuana user on family medical leave urine tested upon return to work who could be terminated,” she said, even though the worker hadn’t used marijuana recently enough to be impaired.
Employers are beginning to request training in how to recognize impairment, similar to the way many managers now look for signs of alcohol impairment, Brown said.
Not only are there safety questions, but productivity issues. In many cases, employers could address safety concerns by consistent scheduling, Brown said.
Much of the confusion in the United States occurs because the issue is addressed by both states and the federal government, versus in other countries, where the question is exclusively a national one, Brown said.
Plus, she said, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed an Obama directive that had prevented the federal government from pursuing marijuana cases in states that have legalized it. “We really have an actual, serious mess,” Brown said.
Among the issues are whether marijuana is ingested, such as when it is eaten in brownies or smoked, she said.
The effect peaks slower but lasts longer when eaten, Brown said. Also, marijuana grown today is more potent. “People are afraid of passive exposure now,” she said. “Passive inhalation may be a real danger. It’s a bit of an open question.”
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