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Forum addresses impact of recreational marijuana law

SUGAR GROVE – Waubonsee Community College hosted a panel discussion Dec. 11 to answer questions employers may have about drug screening once recreational marijuana becomes legal in Illinois.

The program, by design, was meant to help businesses and organizations prepare for Jan. 1, when the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act goes into effect.  

While recreational marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, officials say employers are grappling with how to adjust to the law and its potential impact to the workplace.

Ne’Keisha Stepney, the college’s dean for business and career technologies, said the college felt compelled to host the event because the new legislation stirs a lot of questions.

“This was a topic we heard from employers,” she said.

She said the college wanted to provide a space for leaders of small businesses and organizations to learn what the legislation means to them.

“Oftentimes the small businesses don’t have the resources and support,” Stepney said. “It gets some of their legal questions answered and addresses employment practices.”

About 20 people signed up in advance to sit in on the program, which consisted of a presentation, panel discussion and a question-and-answer session.

Julie Proscia, an equity partner for SmithAmundsen, gave an overview of the cannabis law changes to the workplace.

“Essentially what it said was that you could only test individuals truly if there was a reasonable suspicion to believe they were under the influence [and] if they were impaired by cannabis, but other than that it was legal,” she said.

Proscia said employers reserve the right to prohibit use, distribution and possession of drugs in the workplace.

Proscia said she recognizes that employers are “freaking out” trying to amend their policies and procedures to account for changes to the law.

“Impairment is a little bit dicey when it comes to cannabis,” she said.

She said because an employee could smoke marijuana on a Saturday and go to work Monday, it raises question of what’s a reasonable suspicion, if there’s no test for impairment, as is the case with alcohol.

Justice Grown is a “full-service, licensed medical marijuana dispensary,” according to its website. Brittany Williams, program director for Justice Grown and one of the panelists, said business will proceed as usual at Justice Grown under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act.

“There is not any drug testing for cannabis at my job obviously,” she said. “I don’t see that there will be.”

Williams said she is concerned about the stigma that people tend to associate with marijuana and its use.

“Our biggest users are people in their 50s who are looking for pain management or veterans who used to be on opioids and now are trying to transition,” she said. “I think that there’s a change in perception that has to happen in terms of how companies are going to operate and how they’re going to enforce a drug policy, especially when their users are going to be so diverse and from any walk of life.”

Scott Shellhouse, a representative for Clarios and one of the panelists, said the law does not impact the company and how it operates. Clarios is a “leader in smart energy storage technologies,” according to its website.

“I don’t see anything changing with the drug policies and impaired policies of testing for employees that have come to work impaired whether it’s alcohol or marijuana,” Shellhouse said. “It’s just a very huge concern from strictly a safety standpoint. The company I work for is also worldwide. It’s not just Illinois they’re in. It’s going to be business as usual.”

Proscia said employers have the option to develop a zero-tolerance drug policy, but she pointed out that there are disadvantages to attracting and retaining employees.

At the same time, the law provides employees with protections preventing automatic termination and allowing an opportunity to contest.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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