MERIDEN — The legalization of medical marijuana in the state may have brought some pain relief to thousands, but it has presented challenges to employers.
About 30 representatives of local companies attended a forum at the Hunter’s Ambulance training center Wednesday to get answers to questions about drug testing, employee privacy, on-the-job safety and more.
Mary Morgan, a pharmacist and manager at Willow Brook Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary in Meriden, explained the variety of marijuana products and usage.
“It’s very individualized, it’s another tool in the box,” Morgan said. “It really starts in the doctor’s office. You have to match the patient’s needs with the appropriate form for their lifestyle.”
Employers Association of the NorthEast, a non-profit providing human resources consulting services in Connecticut and Massachusetts, operates a hotline for employer questions. Many questions are from Massachusetts employers wanting to know what to do with employees who show up for work smelling like marijuana, said manager Kim Thornton.
Marijuana is legal for recreational use in Massachusetts, but not in Connecticut. Medical marijuana was legalized in Connecticut in 2012.
Craig Allen, medical director for Meriden-based Rushford Behavioral Health, helped clarify questions around medical marijuana, testing, prescribing and the lack of Federal Drug Administration approvals.
“None of the items are FDA approved,” Allen said. “When a substance is certified, the patient has gone to the doctor’s office. The doctor has to say ‘there is a medical marijuana product that will benefit your chronic disease state.’”
Allen discussed the low numbers of medical schools with cannabis and cannabinoid curriculums, with some exceptions.
“There are doctors in the state who know a lot about cannabis and cannabinoid within the Hartford Healthcare network,” Allen said. “When they make recommendations, they make specific recommendations.”
THC vs. CBD
The discussion ranged from the difference between THC, the psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis, and cannabidiol or CBD products that can be purchased anywhere from a CVS to gas stations.
THC in amounts larger than .03 percent are considered a controlled substance and some CBD products contain THC. But even small amounts can show up in employment drug tests weeks after use.
According to Thornton, there are several kinds of testing, including pre-employment, random and post-accident
Employees who test positive for THC but have medical marijuana cards should be counseled about safe work environments. If the employee has a safety-sensitive occupation, human resources should seek other jobs within the company if possible.
A formal policy called “reasonable suspicion” in private sector companies covers marijuana or any other drug or alcohol abuse.
“..but the question becomes how do we measure impairment?” Thornton said. “I am unaware of anybody who has a legal test that measures impairment.”
State Rep. Cathy Abercrombie told the group the issue of legalizing marijuana for recreational use would likely be back before the General Assembly, which drew concerns from business representatives attending Wednesday’s event.
Last year’s legislation went through three committees to create a bill that couldn’t get enough support.
“We looked at what’s going on around the country,” Abercrombie said. “We’re looking at Massachusetts and their challenges, particularly for employers...We will continue to have that conversation.”