Guidance for Leaders when Dealing with Marijuana in the Workplace

As of 2023, although marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, it has been legalized for recreational and medical use in some capacity in nearly 40 states. Positive drug testing rates among U.S. employees are at a 20-year high, sparking concern among employers. With this in mind, it’s a great time to revisit your workplace drug and alcohol policy.

A photo of a woman tending a marijuana plant depicting marijuana in the workplace

What to Know about Cannabis in the Workplace

Regardless of legality, marijuana in the workplace is a safety issue. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, employees who tested positive for marijuana on a pre-employment drug test reported 55% more industrial accidents, 85% more injuries, and 75% greater absenteeism than employees who tested negative.

Despite the risks, attitudes towards cannabis use are growing more lax. It will likely be necessary to continue assessing your workplace restrictions as the national conversation shifts. Here are some things to consider when creating your workplace drug and alcohol policy.

  • There’s no set amount of time that a high will last. Depending on the amount and form of THC consumed, a person could be high anywhere between one and several hours. Because of this, it’s hard to make a rule about how long a person should wait after consuming THC to avoid being high at work.
  • It’s better to make your expectations about marijuana in the workplace clear, whether that means zero tolerance or a strike system, and let each employee govern their behavior accordingly.
  • Things get tricky when it comes to drug testing. Marijuana can remain in a person’s saliva for up to 24 hours after use, while urine and hair tests can detect THC for more than 30 days after use in some cases. It’s hard to tell whether an employee was working under the influence or if they consumed THC in the recent past.
  • It’s a good idea to focus on performance issues rather than your suspicion of cannabis use unless an employee is intoxicated. If an employee makes mistakes or acts unsafely, you can take disciplinary action regardless of the cause.
  • Train managers to identify the typical characteristics of marijuana use so they can keep an eye out for anything unusual.
  • A zero-tolerance policy, complete with a pre-employment drug screening and periodic random drug testing, is the only way to ensure your workforce is cannabis-free. However, many highly qualified workers enjoy using marijuana off the clock and will be put off by such a policy.
  • A compromise might be waiving the pre-employment drug test but clarifying that random drug testing can occur any time after the first month of employment. That way, employees are not penalized for their THC consumption before they are hired. (In some industries, pre-employment drug tests cannot be waived.)
  • Some employers, like those in the cannabis industry, might decide to allow marijuana in the workplace under certain conditions.
  • If you do decide to allow cannabis use in some capacity at work, you may be opening yourself up to additional liabilities. Tread carefully and be sure to define any limitations and restrictions.
  • Consider whether you will make provisions for employees with medical marijuana prescriptions. Some states have laws that protect medical marijuana patients from discrimination.
  • In some industries and roles, safety concerns might override discrimination concerns regarding medical marijuana.

Regardless of your industry, have a lawyer review your finalized workplace drug and alcohol policy to ensure it complies with all state and local regulations. When the policy is complete, could you clarify your expectations to all new and current employees so everything is clear?

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Dave Schoenbeck
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