This week Canada legalized recreational marijuana use. It is now also legal in nine U.S. states, including California and Colorado. Legalization is also on the ballot in Michigan and North Dakota this November 6. It’s clear that the trend toward legalizing marijuana for all uses, not just medicinal, is progressing throughout the western world – odd given the opposite trend of criminalizing cigarette smoking in every public and private space. Many people are happy that possession of marijuana will no longer be a crime, but decriminalizing this drug has another side effect: it’s not good for workers. Greater marijuana use further narrows the labor pool of reliable employees and harms businesses and the economy.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 24 million Americans aged 12 and up used marijuana in 2016. No doubt today it’s much higher. It is the most common substance found when workers are drug tested. For employers who want to run their businesses safely and without hassle, this rising rate of marijuana use is very bad news.
First of all, there are the safety concerns. Workers who use marijuana are more likely to have accidents and injuries on the job because marijuana impairs people’s ability to move, to think and to problem solve. It slows their reaction time. This is not ideal when the work being done is office work, but when it’s auto repair or welding, mental impairment is a serious liability. An injury on the job is expensive in so many ways, not least in terms of Workers’ Compensation claims, but also in downtime, recruiting, training, and lowered morale. No one likes to see a worker injured ever.
Marijuana also affects memory and sense of time as well. This often results in absenteeism or tardiness, and general productivity. Foggy brained people take longer to do their tasks and make more mistakes. An impaired worker who is tardy, absent, or fuzzy puts a burden on his coworkers and creates resentment in his workplace. No coworker likes doing their job and the job of someone else who partied too hard last night. Employers don’t appreciate wondering if their workers will show up and be able to do their jobs. Managers don’t like to fire skilled people who are talented but unreliable because of drug use.
Marijuana’s impairment issues can last longer than other drugs too. It can remain in a person’s system for 24 to 48 hours after casual use and up to a month for chronic users. Given that, when is it safe to say that an employee is no longer impaired? When is it safe for them to use tools or operate heavy machinery? In a day? A week? Never? Can anyone be sure?
Legalizing recreational marijuana use will result in more people using it recreationally. More marijuana use will result in people attempting to work their jobs while impaired. That’s dangerous for them, and it’s bad for productivity in general. It will make it more challenging for employers to find reliable workers and to safeguard them and others at work. This will be bad for individual employers and the productivity and profitability of small businesses like auto shops. Added together, it’s bad for business in general. Drugged people make poor workers. Poor workers make businesses less productive. Less productive businesses make for a weaker economy. With increased marijuana use, we all lose.
What do you think? Is legalizing recreational marijuana a good thing?