Why business rules are keeping pot illegal

Pot may be legal in Washington, but if you work for a business that does drug testing, it likely still feels illegal.

That’s because some components of marijuana can remain in your system for a month or longer. And the drug tests most companies use can’t discriminate between active marijuana in your system and marijuana that you smoked three weeks ago.

(Pot's legal, or is it?)
(Pot’s legal, or is it?)

If your company only tests if you appear impaired, whether you are or not, that THC from weeks ago could get you fired.

That puts consumers in an awkward position. If you use recreational marijuana on your own personal time, and you go to your job perfectly sober, you are still risking your career.

If you still decide to use it, you certainly can’t talk about it at the water cooler. That just adds risk.

That’s very different from rules around alcohol, a substance that in many ways could be considered even more dangerous than marijuana.

So, as an example, here’s the sort of office chat about booze that you might hear on any given morning (and a conversation I’ve likely had myself before I quit drinking):

Employee 1: “So I went over and checked out Heathen Brewing last night, got a growler of their Son Of Malice Double IPA. Man that’s some tasty stuff – and strong!”
Employee 2: “I’ve heard that’s like 8.7 percent alcohol – crazy. Hard to get a beer to that level. I may just give them a try.”
Employee 1: “Yeah great stuff. All their beers pack a punch. Love supporting a local brewer too. Those guys are doing it right.”

But how do you think this version of the conversation would float around the water cooler?

Employee 1: “So I tried that Jack Herer strain from Cedar Creek Cannabis last night. Great active stuff. Made my stiff muscles feel so good that I actually had fun cleaning the house!”
Employee 2: “Wow – sounds nice! I hate cleaning the house.”
Employee 1: “Seriously, great stuff. All their strains look interesting. And they’re local, right here in Vancouver. Cool to see a local company making a nice solid product.”

While the first conversation is perfectly acceptable, the second one could get both employees fired (or at least headed to the HR department for a drug test).

Why is that the case when both drugs are legal in Washington?

It’s not necessarily the company’s fault.

(many people in the workforce are legitimately afraid of being seen in a pot shop because they could lose their jobs)
(many people in the workforce are legitimately afraid of being seen in a pot shop because they could lose their jobs)

Companies are liable for the actions of their employees, at least to a certain extent like when they’re on the clock. If something were to happen – a car accident, etc. – and an employee tested positive for THC, then the employer could be responsible for any damages. Even though the employee used marijuana weeks ago and the employee wasn’t actively impaired.

So companies have to keep those rules because, once again, the testing isn’t specifically looking at active impairment.

Booze, on the other hand, is out of your system in a matter of hours and won’t pop up on a drug test days later.

So basically a bad method of testing and determining if a legal drug is in your system is obstructing the public’s ability to use a substance that they voted to make legal.

The solution – and there are some tests that look at active impairment that have recently become available – is to ban drug tests that look at substances that are no longer active in an employees system.

In my opinion, no responsible employee wants to go to work high or drunk. But I also think what they do on their own time should be their own personal decision – as long as it doesn’t affect their work performance.

Along with HR rules, there’s another aspect keeping legal marijuana from feeling like it’s legal. There are no public places where people can legally use marijuana together – no smoking, vape or even edibles lounges where marijuana can be a social experience. Those are banned by I-502.

You can only use the product in your own home. And, unless the law is altered in this session, which could happen, you can’t even share it with another consenting adult. It’s illegal to pass a joint under I-502, even to your significant other in your own home.

Can you imagine if it were illegal to let your boyfriend or girlfriend take a sip of your beer to see if they like it? Yup. That’s the rule for pot.

Personally I think in five or 10 years, the public perception of marijuana will be very similar to the public perception of alcohol. I often liken it to the microbrew scene. There’s a gourmet market. There’s a lot for people to learn about and explore. And I think it will be far more out in the open.

But there’s a lot of work ahead before it gets to that stage. Stigma is still rampant. And there’s a lot of work ahead before legal marijuana truly feels legal.

-SueVo (sue.vorenberg@columbian.com)