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Is it Time to Update Your Company’s Drug Use Policy?
Harry Fox

Given the safety risks involved with many manufacturing jobs, it is a good idea for manufacturers to adopt and consistently enforce a drug and alcohol policy. However, the evolving legal environment — particularly with many states moving toward legalizing marijuana — greatly complicates the process.

Alcohol vs. marijuana

When marijuana was illegal everywhere, determining how to respond to a positive drug test was a simpler matter. Many manufacturers adopted a zero-tolerance policy, as well as routine drug testing, for positions where impairment could cause safety issues.

Today, medical marijuana is legal in more than half of the United States and a significant number of states have legalized its recreational use. The reason why the situation is complicated stems from the differences between marijuana and alcohol.

Tests that measure blood alcohol levels provide a clear measure of impairment. But, the correlation between levels of THC (marijuana’s main active ingredient) and impairment is less well understood. Unlike alcohol, some level of THC may stay in a person’s system for days or even weeks, so employees may test positive even if they are “sober.”

Drug policy updates

What should you do in this changing environment? First, it is important to review your company’s drug-use policies. Some companies have stopped testing for marijuana for fear that it will discourage qualified workers from applying for jobs. However, most companies will screen for marijuana or alcohol use if there is a reason to believe an employee is under the influence at work. Others test only for safety-sensitive jobs.

Monitor legal developments to ensure that your policy balances safety and legal obligations, if any, to accommodate medical marijuana use. Some experts believe that employers should focus on neurocognitive or functional testing, which measures fitness for work, rather than testing THC levels.

Need help?

The legal landscape in this area is in a state of flux. Consult your legal advisors to ensure that your policy achieves your company’s safety objectives without exposing it to excessive liability.

For more information, contact Harry Fox at [email protected] or 312.670.7444. Visit to learn more about our Manufacturing & Distribution Group.

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