You may have heard about the Gallup poll released last week showing for the first time since 1969, a majority of Americans favors legalizing marijuana. The poll shows that 58 percent of the country supports treating marijuana much like alcohol, and establishing age limits, production and consumption rules. Interestingly, the biggest jump in support of legalization has occurred within the past year. Since last November, the response in support of legalization increased 10 percentage points. That’s a big shift in sentiment and signals an interesting conundrum for those of us involved in workplace safety through drug testing.
More surprising is a report you may not have seen just last month from a Public Policy Polling survey in Texas. It found that 58 percent of respondents either “somewhat” or “strongly” supported “changing Texas law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, where stores would be licensed to sell marijuana to adults 21 and older.” This is an astounding result when you consider Texas’ conservative reputation.
What Does This Mean for Drug Testing in Houston?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse outlines several studies that associate workers’ use of marijuana with increased absences, accidents, tardiness, workers’ comp claims and job turnover. A study also points out that since the 1990’s the percentage of people smoking marijuana has remained stable, however the rate of addiction to marijuana has increased dramatically with 1 in every 300 seriously addicted to pot. In particular, teen use of marijuana has increased significantly with government studies showing as many as 30% of today’s teenagers smoke pot. The increase in teens using pot may very well correspond to the decrease in the number of teens who perceive pot as harmful—a trend that the NIDA suggests may be linked to the public conversation about “medical marijuana” and legalization of marijuana.
It’s important to remember that even if a state legalizes marijuana, the Federal government has not. If you are in an industry subject to Dept. of Transportation (DOT) compliance, testing positive for marijuana will still mean you failed your drug test. Even in non-DOT companies requiring drug testing, legalization of marijuana changes nothing. You could still be subject to termination for having measurable amounts of drugs or alcohol in a post-accident or random drug test scenario.
Buyer Beware: This is Not Your Mama’s Pot
Then again, if it's legal, how bad can it be for you, right? Maybe there will be specific limits of it "allowed" before you are considered impaired--much like in measuring Blood Alcohol Content. The NIDA points out the pot grown today is not the same as pot grown in the 1980’s. The amount of THC in police-confiscated marijuana samples has been increasing. In 2012, THC concentrations averaged nearly 15 percent, compared to about 4 percent in the 1980’s. This suggests new users are exposed to much higher concentrations with a greater chance of adverse reactions.
There are harmful effects with both moderate and heavy marijuana use that should be considered. Short-term medical effects of smoking pot include: Slowed reaction time, rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, dry mouth, red eyes and “the munchies.” Psychological effects of marijuana include: Short-term memory loss, anxiety, paranoia, “magical thinking,” and depression. While some of these effects may dissipate in a matter of hours, measurable amounts of THC can remain in the body from several days for light users up to a month or more for heavy users. Additionally, men may not realize that heavy use can reduce libido by lowering testosterone levels as well as reducing sperm count and quality.
Interested in more about drug testing for marijuana?
- Marijuana legalization: How does it affect your workplace?
- Workplace Marijuana in the post-legalization era: What employers need to know
- Types of drug and alcohol testing