Despite legalization, employers remain strictly against marijuana use

sexy boss in office hbtv hemp beach tvWhile marijuana smokers can now light up in Washington without going to jail, they should think twice if they’re looking for work or hoping to hang on to their current job, local employers say.

“People really need to think it through if they’re going to make a change in their behavior based on a change in the law,” Randy Querin, spokesman for PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center, said last week.

In November, Washington voters approved Initiative 502 with 56 percent of the vote, legalizing marijuana for recreational use for adults 21 and over. The law decriminalized marijuana possession Dec. 6 and gave the state’s Liquor Control Board one year to develop rules for private grows, sales and distribution.

Washington joined Colorado, which approved a similar measure, as the only two states to legalize pot. While advocates rejoiced, law-enforcement officials said they worried about how to enforce the significant policy change. Last week, Cowlitz County prosecutors dismissed 42 misdemeanor marijuana possession cases because of the voters’ decision.

But for employers, it’s business as usual.

Querin said the hospital’s Occupational Medicine division, which conducts drug screening tests for businesses, has seen no significant drop off in requests for pre-screening or random testing.

“No employer has called to say ‘Never mind’ on marijuana,” he said, adding that the hospital has a no-tolerance policy for employees.

Sandy Catt, spokeswoman for the Longview School District, said bus drivers are already subject to random testing, and all prospective employees are tested before they are hired.

Teachers could be required to take drug or alcohol tests if they appear drunk or high on prescription drugs, marijuana or other substances, she said.

“If the impairment is not visibly observable, then I think it’s going to be very difficult for an employer to deal with that,” Catt said.

Trucking companies also have zero tolerance for marijuana use, which can sometimes stay in the body for about two weeks after smoking. Darlene Johnson, owner of Woodland Truck Line, said she spends about $60 to $90 per test, which includes four random tests per week and pre-screening for all employees.

“If they come up and they are positive, they’re immediately pulled from the truck and we as an employer can decide if they get a second chance or not,” Johnson said, adding that she’s only had one positive test in 10 years.

“Truck driving is not as easy of a job as people think. You’ve got to have all your reasoning ability, especially with some of the people that are on the roads now.”

State labor groups say they are urging their members to be cautious when using marijuana off the job, even though it’s legal in Washington.

“We really just hope that union members themselves understand that this stuff stays long in the system. We’ll try to make union members aware of what they need to do,” said Kathy Cummings, spokeswoman for the Washington State Labor Council, which endorsed I-502.

She added that marijuana use will likely become a part of future contract negotiations as workers as businesses grapple with the new law.

“We don’t want to see jobs jeopardized just because a legal substance is lingering in their system,” she said.

For union construction workers, drug testing has become a way of life over the last decade, and they expect the same from contractors under marijuana legalization, said Jeff Washburn, president of the Longview Kelso Building and Construction Trade Council.

“We can’t figure out how, at this point, it’s going to affect our people,” said Washburn, a union steamfitter.

Weyerhaeuser Co., which has more than 1,000 employees in Cowlitz County, will not change its no-tolerance policy because marijuana use is still illegal on the federal level, company spokesman Anthony Chavez said. The Federal Way-based company operates mills and other production facilities nationwide.

The company has different contracts with different unions that govern drug testing and enforcement, he said, adding that punishment varies depending on the severity of the violation.

No policy changes are expected at Longview Fibre Paper and Packaging either, company officials say.

“We conduct pre-employment, post-accident, reasonable suspicion and random drug-screen testing. Any employee who is found through such testing to have identifiable traces of any (federally) prohibited drug or substance in their system will be considered in violation of our policy, regardless of when or where that substance entered the system,” company spokesman Brandon Chapman said in a written statement.

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