Employers Prepare to Respond to Legal Recreational Marijuana

Earlier this month, Talent 2025, the Grand Rapids Chamber, and the Right Place hosted an event for employers called Recreational Marijuana and the Workplace: Expert Insights and Human Resource Strategies. This event included a panel of experts explaining what employers can expect as a result of Michigan voters passing Proposal One, which legalizes recreational marijuana use for adults over the age of 21.


Changes to the workplace

The first major takeaway for employers is that the new laws do not have legal implications for individual employers’ choices to conduct drug tests or uphold their existing drug use policies. Employers may continue to discipline or terminate employees due to marijuana use.


On the other hand, the panel predicted that workplace culture may change as a result of new laws. Because marijuana will soon be regulated similarly to alcohol, several of the panelists assumed that employees will likely begin discussing marijuana use openly as they would alcohol.


Anne DeWys, Director of Employee Relations at Spectrum Health, urged employers to communicate clearly with employees about their drug use policies whether they have changed or not. Because the laws are changing, some employees may assume that company policies are changing as well. It is important that employers clarify their policies as soon as possible.


Safety concerns

Many of the panelists said that asking whether recreational marijuana users can perform their jobs safely is the “key question” for employers.


Unfortunately, drug testing methods to determine impairment are difficult. Vern Jones, President of ASTS Corporation, explained that while urine is the most commonly tested specimen, it does not necessarily determine current impairment because it is a non-circulating fluid. Oral fluid is circulating, but limited research means that it difficult to legally defend.


Overall, the panelists suggest that employers consider their industries and specific job requirements when considering safety concerns.


Recreational marijuana’s impact on talent pools

Legalized recreational marijuana will likely have both positive and negative impacts on available talent.


First, it is possible that more recreational marijuana users mean fewer job applicants who are able to pass or willing to take a drug test. The panelists explained that some studies show that currently, 40% of adults have tried marijuana and another 30% would if it was legal. This could mean that 70% of adults will try or use recreational marijuana as it is legalized. Employers may have to face a shrinking talent pool as a result.


Additionally, the changing laws will bring a new industry to Michigan. This will impact industries such as construction, warehousing, real estate, and insurance as well as create talent competition for all employers.

Finally, there has been some discussion of dropping previous marijuana-related criminal charges. This, in addition to a lack of new charges, means that talent pools may grow as fewer people are incarcerated or disqualified from jobs due to criminal histories.


Overall, many employers are taking a “wait and see” approach as recreational marijuana becomes legalized. It is important to discuss policies as changes take place, but these will vary by industry and individual workplace.

Read a blog post about this event from the Grand Rapids Chamber here

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