If you spend time in Colorado, you might encounter ads that raise difficult questions about marijuana.
“Would you let a bus driver high on marijuana drive your kids to school?” asks one. “Would you let your doctor perform surgery on you if he was under the influence of marijuana?” another wonders.
The advertisements are part of a campaign by the Colorado Department of Transportation, which struggles with one of the more vexing issues surrounding legalized marijuana, the fact that it’s often hard to tell when a person is too high to drive or perform other tasks where lives are at risk. Experts say marijuana users tend to underestimate the drug’s effect on response times and other processes that may impact a person’s ability to work safely and effectively.
Society’s better-established rules for measuring and dealing with alcohol intoxication don’t translate well to weed, which adds to the difficulty. TCH, the intoxicating compound in marijuana, stays in the blood for a long time, well past when intoxication wears off and up to a month for heavy users, according to the American Addiction Centers. The effects of alcohol, meanwhile, are gone by the time it is out of the bloodstream. This suggests that someone with TCH in their blood may be sober.
“There are problems, circumstances, and consequences of legalizing pot that aren’t the same with alcohol in terms of enforcement and driving under the influence,” said Domenic Trunfio, first chief assistant district attorney in Onondaga County.
Trunfio, along with many other law enforcement officials, and several state lawmakers are opposed to legalization in New York as a result of this difficulty. They don’t want legalization to send a signal that it is OK to drive or perform other important or dangerous tasks while stoned. Despite their opposition, legalization looked set to pass this year. But with state efforts to combat COVID-19 cutting short discussions on legalization, the plans are on hold while some of the thornier issues, like dealing with impaired driving, are worked out.
Some feel the key to overcoming the inherent problems with testing for marijuana is to move away from blood and urine tests and toward being able to recognize intoxication. There is even a job – drug recognition expert – that is in high demand as police departments and employers struggle to keep up with the changing times. Although technology is catching up, with at least one company developing a breathalyzer-type device that would make drug testing easier, if not more effective.
Smoking on the job
Since many people drive or perform other potentially dangerous activities for work, changing marijuana laws is having an effect on the labor market as the number of workers who can pass drug screenings falls. This is forcing employers to reevaluate the pros and cons of drug testing, according to the Human Resources Professionals Association.
Melissa Roth, chief human resource officer of ASPIRE of WNY, which helps developmentally disabled job seekers find work, says she is in favor of moving away from drug tests and moving towards focusing on impairment.
Organizations should evaluate “how someone’s performance or behavior is affecting their ability to do their job,” Roth said. “If people are just relying on whether they passed the drug test, they’re not going to get quality employees.”