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Seeing Through the Haze: Marijuana and the Workplace – THC “Breathalyzers”

March 28, 2018

Marijuana use by Michigan employees is on the rise. Many employees mistakenly believe that a Michigan Medical Marijuana card gives them the absolute right to use marijuana. While Michigan law affords some rights to individuals to use medical marijuana under certain circumstances (marijuana use remains illegal under federal law), employees do not have the right to work under the influence of marijuana.

How can an employer determine whether an employee is under the influence of marijuana while at work?

Existing tests, such as hair, blood, urine and oral fluid tests, are able to detect an employee’s marijuana use, but they cannot determine whether an employee is currently under the influence of marijuana. For example, an oral fluid test may confirm that an employee used marijuana within the past few days, but it cannot confirm whether the employee was under the influence of marijuana while at work. Other tests can detect even older marijuana use.

Are there any other tests available?

We are aware of several companies which are working to develop tests designed to confirm marijuana use within a few hours prior to the test. This time frame is significant because the “high” from marijuana use is reported to last approximately two to three hours. It appears that some of these devices will be similar to a hand-held alcohol breathalyzer. In fact, one device is purportedly capable of detecting alcohol and marijuana in the same test. If these devices operate as planned, they may prove to be a very useful tool for employers in the future.

Are the devices available now?

At the present time, the devices do not appear to be widely-available, and more importantly, we are not aware of any test results being admitted as evidence in any legal proceedings. We will continue to monitor the development and use of these devices. In the meantime, if an employer suspects that an employee is at work under the influence of marijuana (even if the employer obtains one of these devices), they should document the reasons why they believe the employee is under the influence (i.e., smell, slurred speech, glassy eyes, unusual behavior, etc.). After documenting their observations, the employer should take action pursuant to their written workplace drug policy to ensure the safety of their employees and the public.

If you have questions about marijuana use affecting employment or workplace drug policies, please contact any member of Varnum’s Labor and Employment team.

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