Last updated: October 19, 2020
Atlanta, again debating further relaxed marijuana enforcement, can expect to reap negative consequences to the local business community. Employers face increasing challenges in maintaining workplace safety, protecting workers from injury, and complying with national mandates (such as DOT regulations) to keep work environments free of drug use thanks to continued normalization of drug use.
Companies also have to cope with the risks of expensive lawsuits as the legal landscape surrounding marijuana use and possession continues to change. This is detailed by Quest Diagnostics in its white paper “What Will ‘Legal’ Marijuana Cost Employers?”
Productivity is at issue, along with meeting the basic need of hiring people who demonstrate the clean and sober state necessary to perform their jobs safely and well.
Current marijuana debate in Atlanta…
This year, Atlanta’s City Council has been debating a law that would allow possession of small quantities of marijuana without jail penalties, though only in the case where the person was apprehended by Atlanta City police. This runs contrary to, or at the very least sets up a double standard with, state and federal law. Additionally, the bill would cap the fine for possessing the drug at a paltry $75. Current Atlanta legislation makes marijuana possession punishable by as much as 6 months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
The council in April returned the penalty-reduction measure for further committee review. Why? Some on the council are concerned that discussion about the consequences of such a change has been insufficient. School officials, law enforcement, judges, church leaders, and other interested parties, they said, need to be consulted carefully, fully heard out, and their feedback analyzed.
The others must include the business community of Atlanta.
The issues arising for businesses are many. Let’s look at a few that some people might not have immediately considered.
Relaxed marijuana enforcement: Some of the costs to the Atlanta business community
If city police are only allowed to slap hands of people bringing marijuana along when going to and coming from their jobs, what if workers under the influence are hurt on the job?
Language in the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act bars workers from compensation benefits in cases where the employee was impaired by marijuana, or some other controlled substance, when injured or killed. Therefore, companies will typically perform drug tests to ascertain whether the worker was impaired.
The legal presumption is that the incident was caused by the substance. The employer must, nevertheless, deal with possible rebuttals to that presumption, along with having to cope with a serious tragedy within its staff and community.
Drugs in the workplace can also directly impact federal funding. If a company earns certification by the state’s Board of Workers’ Compensation as a drug-free workplace, the firm can also obtain a 7.5% discount in its workers’ comp rates. On the basis of that alone, no provision can be passed that relaxes marijuana law enforcement without the business community being financially impacted.
Compromised workplace safety
The risks are especially obvious at workplaces where machinery is operated, such as transportation, construction, and manufacturing. Simply put, machines and marijuana don’t mix well.
Like drinking, smoking pot acutely impairs drivers’ skills including the ability to respond to changes and hazards in their environments. The higher the amounts present in the blood, the worse the impact is.
Making matters worse still, machine inspectors and operators have traditionally shown a high incidence of illicit drug use, according to studies reviewed by the U.S. Department of Labor. The DOL noted that many surveys and reports indicate drug use as connected to a “profoundly negative” impact on work environments. Issues included decreased productivity, higher accident rates, absences, medical expenses, and turnover.
David Evans, an adviser to the Drug Free America Foundation, has observed:
- After testing positive for marijuana workers have a 55% greater industrial accident rate, 85% higher injury rate, and 75% higher absence rate than others.
- Overall costs of physical and mental health issues, injuries, and harms to economic productivity outweigh revenues where marijuana becomes legal.
Atlanta, down the road…
Atlanta is not currently debating legalization for recreational marijuana, although medical marijuana has been legalized quite some time. But why go any distance down that road when we already know the tremendous risks that come with it? Economic stress brought by the easy availability of marijuana is acute. Atlanta should reject measures that facilitate its availability.