THIS 13-YEAR OLD MAY HAVE JUST SOLVED THE HR QUAGMIRE OF ZERO-TOLERANCE DRUG POLICIES

The legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use has long been a divisive issue, with plenty of poignant arguments from supporters and opponents alike. So far the voters of 23 states voiced their collective “yes”, just as Ohio recently took to the polls to sound their resolute “no”.

Our personal views aside, there is a need to take a constructive look at what this issue represents for businesses and human resources management. Latest statistics from Quest Diagnostics, a drug-testing company, indicate that positive results for marijuana use in the workforce have risen by 6.2% (2013 figure), in Washington and Colorado as much as 23% and 20% respectively.

These figures highlight an emerging trend and a growing concern for both employers and employees. On one hand we have companies worried about workplace safety, liability and productivity. Zero-tolerance policies are an important tool to protect businesses as well as consumers, and this is especially key as the trend of legal-marijuana-using workforce grows. On the other hand, we have the issue of employee rights, privacy, and morale (also read: productivity). Many people believe that what they do on their own time is their business. It is at this point two questions come to mind - what are we zero tolerant of? And if “intoxication while at work” and “use of illicit drugs” are the answers, as they ought to be, then the second question is obvious. How are we testing employees to enforce this policy?

Here, I strongly feel, is where our company policies and HR management limp behind the sprinting legislation. There was a time, not so long ago, when marijuana was an illicit drug, on par with the likes of cocaine and heroin. The very negative connotations made companies’ zero-tolerance policies highly justifiable. But in 23 states (potentially 29 in 2016) that is just no longer the case. Medicinal marijuana therapies are legal and lauded as highly effective for dozens of conditions. Additionally, 5 states have legalized recreational use. That means marijuana is on par with alcohol.

So the answer to my second question seems concerning. It is a known fact that drug testing at the workplace only tests whether a person has recently (up to a month) used a drug; it does not measure impairment. I will seriously trivialize, but basically, if you live in Washington for example, and on a Saturday you dress up as a unicorn, smoke a joint for your medical condition or recreationally, or drink yourself into oblivion, when you show up at the office on Monday, polished, sober and sans your sparkling tusk, you can get fired for legally using marijuana. On the weekend!

We cannot be zero-tolerant of personal choices outside of company time. Most of all we cannot be zero-tolerant of how people choose to manage their health conditions. Again, medicinal marijuana is highly (no pun intended) effective.

The consequences can already be felt. Lawsuits involving marijuana laws and the workplace are on the rise. In addition, many companies have begun experiencing a drain of qualified employees as a reaction to stringent drug-testing policies.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way!

I often encourage my clients to turn to innovation. Like to a 13-year-old boy, Krishna Reddy, last year’s finalist in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Krishna designed a device and wrote the software program to measure impairment from drugs and alcohol by analyzing pupillary reflex. His aim is to help address the high amount of DUI offenses and ultimately lower the number of lethal drunk-driving crashes. The concept is simple – a short video recording (on any digital camera) of a person’s eye is analyzed by a software program, considering constriction movements of the pupil as it reacts to light stimuli. Thus far, the device can detect alcohol, marijuana, certain painkillers, sleep aids and amphetamines.

Of course there is still much science to be done and the legislators will have to review the legal issues. And ultimately companies will have to do some soul searching and review their own policies and will. But in the meantime, I find Krishna’s invention brilliant, innovative, and potentially impactful and feel I should throw this idea into the suggestions pot for the HR management family.

I just feel that when you’re going to test, measure that which matters – impairment, and if you desire, the use of illicit drugs. I would actually argue that more companies may wish to start testing for impairment on the job, as additional states amend their laws, and marijuana-using workforce grows.

What are you thoughts?

Please check out Krishna Reddy’s presentation on the competition’s website. And while you’re there, have a look at the other contestants. It’ll make you feel optimistic about the world’s future.

http://www.youngscientistchallenge.com/contests/entry/18936

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