America's burgeoning legal cannabis industry is creating jobs in every corner of the country. From cultivation experts and budtenders, to truck drivers and fertilizer specialists, the green rush has created an economic boom far beyond the plant itself. In Colorado, though, where legal weed made its debut on the American market, new research claims that industry employees are keeping their bud as close as possible, with over half of pot shop and grow house workers saying they get stoned at work.
The study, authored by researchers at Colorado State University and published last month in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, surveyed 214 laborers working in Colorado's cannabis industry and asked questions pertaining to their work, health, general well-being, and, of course, cannabis use.
As Forbes reported, the CSU researchers found that 63% of respondents admitted to being high when they arrived at work, with another 45% reporting that they had consumed cannabis while on the clock.
But while the recently-published study concluded that the growing cannabis industry had "an imminent need to establish formal health and safety training to implement best practices," the idea that marijuana use need be entirely separate from marijuana businesses is not universally agreed upon.
Working with volatile chemicals or dangerous machinery while under the influence of any intoxicant can obviously create both legal and safety concerns, but for employees working in lower stakes social or computer-based professions, cannabis has the power to act as a performance enhancer instead of diminisher.
In a recent exploration of marijuana use at non-cannabis industry workplaces, a number of laborers told MERRY JANE about positive experiences of on-the-job pot use.
"My first shift was with a cashier who smoked, too,' Hector, a retail associate at CVS, said about a co-workers cannabis use. "I noticed because the whole first half of the shift he was very fidgety, kept looking at the clock (waiting for his break), and he seemed out of place. After his break, though, he was happy and pretty efficient."
Even before Centennial State voters tipped the first adult-use legalization domino in 2012, employee cannabis use has been a contentious topic in the American workplace. Because traces of the drug stay in users endocannabinoid system for up to months after last use, not to mention how individuals each react differently to the plant, measuring marijuana intoxication has always been guesswork at best. Subsequently, attempts by management groups to corral weed use with mandatory drug testing have resulted in lawsuits and a loss of qualified, hard-working employees.
In Forbes' report on the CSU study, the finance publication compares Colorado's weed workforce to the country's alcohol industry, arguing that cannabis businesses should adapt brewery practices and ban all marijuana use at work. Although that may make sense for extract producers or commercial distributors, the same comparison cannot be made on the retail side. Speaking from personal experience in New York City's highly competitive bartending industry, employees are routinely encouraged and often required to sample the alcohol they are serving, a situation far more similar to that of a budtender puffing a vaporizer on break, than a brewmaster attempting to expertly measure hops while drunk off a few lunchtime pints.
Colorado's groundbreaking 2012 cannabis reform law did call for the state to "legalize marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol," but to regulate the controversial plant like booze, a significant amount of scientific research is still needed — a prospect that remains out of reach as long as federal prohibition continues.
Still, outside of complications surrounding employee cannabis use, the CSU study did conclude at least one unequivocally favorable result from its Centennial State survey: "working in the cannabis industry is associated with positive outcomes for workers and their organizations."
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