Today, all but four states in the US, allow for cannabis use at some level. Nine states have legalized recreational use, while others have authorized limited use of cannabis products at varying THC levels for specific medical conditions and situations. And the maps are changing quickly as state legislators introduce new bills on a monthly basis.
As the use oflegal cannabis spreads, employers need to carefully consider how this will impact their workplace and the working expectations of their employees. Court cases are already starting to appear around the issue, and, it's clear, that the vast majority of businesses will be caught flat-footed if they don't get ahead of the issue.
Complicating matters is the fact that cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, which means that employers need to know what's happening federally and state-by-state if they want the full picture. Employers also need to consider the states their employees reside in not only where their business is located to fully consider the possible situations.
Topping it off is the effects of cannabis are not well understood, and drug tests are not well developed. This leaves a lot of room for uncertainty that can create sticky situations for employers. While there is a lot to be ironed out by regulators and the court system regarding legal guidelines and processes, smart companies are taking action now rather than avoiding the issue.
As a business coach, I strive to create healthy and highly productive work cultures. Here are five things I suggest to my clients, and what I see progressive companies doing to be proactive about cannabis use.
1. Get out ahead of the conversation
First, companies need to make the issue a priority in their discussions with employees. Hiding from cannabis will only lead to problems in the future. Talk about how cannabis use can impact your people and your business and openly engage in the conversation early. Work to clarify your expectations before issues arise.
2. Have a clear, written policy
Every company needs a clear, written policy on cannabis use. With the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis, the use of cannabis will only increase in the coming years. Your people will be using cannabis if they are not already, and you need to deal with it.
Clearly state what you expect around the usage and effects of cannabis. If someone has a medical use permit, can they use cannabis while in the office? Can they use the night before or the morning before they come to work? Do you have a zero-tolerance policy or are actions taken based on the circumstances? Define your guidelines and processes now.
3. Discuss the policy with all employees
Creating a policy is not enough. You need to make sure people know about the policy and understand what's in it. Burying your policy in the back of your employee binder won't pass muster. You can't enforce a policy or process that wasn't properly communicated.
Hold regular sessions to review all new employee policies and changes; include cannabis in these meetings. As the laws change and more people start to use cannabis, you'll need to update, revise, and reconsider these regularly. Start the conversation now.
4. Apply the policy fairly and evenly
Like all expectations and policies, you need to apply them in a fair and balanced manner. Make sure your policies and enforcement processes don't create bias by role or employee. Unfortunately, the enforcement of marijuana law has been significantly racially biased by the law enforcement and the justice system. You need to make sure your approach doesn't perpetuate this problem.
5. Stay up-to-date on changes in local laws
There is new cannabis legislation on a weekly basis as laws are developed and passed. Courts are continuing to sort through cases to establish precedent and applications of these laws. Subscribe to a good news service such as the Marijuana Policy Project to stay abreast of new and upcoming legislation and update your policy as needed.
Many employers are taking a 'wait and see,' or even a 'hide and hope,' approach to cannabis. And while they are avoiding the work of having to deal with the issue now, they are only creating bigger issues in the future. Employers who get out ahead of the topic will not only avoid difficult situations, but they will also attract employees who appreciate working for a company who is proactive and allows them to use cannabis safely.