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Pot in the Workplace

With the recent legalization by Colorado of the retail sale of marijuana and the upcoming legalization in the state of Washington, the question of pot in the work place is surfacing again.  The issue first came up with the approval of the sale of medical marijuana in the 1996 in the state of California.  The question is becoming more important for employers as the recreational use of cannabis becomes more prevalent.

The arguments around the legalization and use of marijuana typically center around whether the substance is dangerous to use.  Throw in discussion about whether pot is a gateway drug that leads to the use and abuse of more dangerous chemical substances and you will be able to create a dinner conversation that could last for hours.

However, one of the aspects of marijuana that is not contested is that it provides an altered state to its user.  In fact, one of the main arguments for the legalization of pot is that its intoxication effect is no worse than alcohol, which is legal to consume.

My discussion point in this post is not the question as to whether cannabis should be legalized or not.  My question is, once the retail sale and recreational use is legalized in a community, should we be allowing stoned people to work in our stores?

My answer is pretty simple: No.

In the same way that we would not want someone intoxicated on alcohol to wait on our customers or be responsible for the operation of our store we do not want someone intoxicated on cannabis to be.  In my view, intoxication is intoxication – in impairment of a person’s mental facilities and decision making through a substance introduced into the body.

Let’s put aside for a moment the consequences of handling cash and the having our staff grazing the store to cure a bodacious case of the munchies (just joking).  One of the least understood things about the c-store industry is the complexity of its operation.  Many of our sites sell gasoline and propane which are flammable and dangerous products (all you have to do is watch Zoolander to see what could happen).  We also sell restricted products such as alcohol and tobacco (and possibly, marijuana in the future).  In none of these situations do we want a staff member having their decision making process impaired while interacting with our customers.

And that is just the public health and safety concerns.  We must maintain our high (pardon the pun) levels of customer service.  If we start to slack (another one) off on our focus on the customer’s experience we are will be driving the customer away with the resulting consequences for our business.

I don’t have a problem with people smoking pot on their own time if it is legal where they live.  However, they need to be sober when they come to work in our store.  This represents a major challenge as we do not yet have an authoritative way to prove whether someone is high or not.  With alcohol, there are quick and easy ways to see whether someone is above the acceptable level of blood alcohol.  Not so with marijuana.  Traditional drug testing takes time and is expensive.  In addition, to my knowledge, it is not as graduated as alcohol testing (is there a limit of thc that you can be under?) and the residue of cannabis use lasts several days.  You could have smoked two days ago, be sober now, but still fail a drug test.

We are hoping that the science will quickly catch up with the usage issues.  In the meantime, just because it is legal doesn’t mean that you can use it and work.