This article accompanies Weed at Work.
While concerns over workplace impairment have many employers worried about medical-marijuana use, decriminalization advocates argue that a host of prescription drugs -- from Valium to Vicodin, Prozac to Percocet -- are equally detrimental to an employee's ability to effectively perform his or her duties.
"There's a host of other medications that people are prescribed and take every day that are much more dangerous than marijuana," says Mike Meno, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington. "They just don't have this cultural stigma attached to them."
That fact hasn't escaped the HR staff at CentraState Healthcare System in Freehold, N.J., a state where medical-marijuana legislation passed earlier this year. While none of CentraState's 2,500 employees have come forward as medical-marijuana patients yet, Fran Keane, vice president of human resources, says she intends to "treat it just as we treat any kind of medical prescription." That means watching for signs of impairment and relying on CentraState's employee-health physicians to possibly adjust the employee's dosage or suggest a different dosing regimen.
As employers consider how they are going to handle the issue of medical marijuana, it's raising the awareness of workplace impairment from any legally prescribed drug. Keith Watts, co-managing shareholder in the Orange County office of Ogletree Deakins in Costa Mesa, Calif., suggests employers adopt a policy requiring employees to notify human resources any time they are taking a prescription drug that might affect their ability to perform the "essential functions of their job."
"Whether it's medical marijuana, Xanax, Oxycontin or Valium, an employer needs to take the proactive step of saying, 'If you are on any of these things, you need to let us know, so that we can make the determination about whether or not we need to make some changes in the workplace so that it's safe for you and others,' " says Watts.