Looser local laws on pot, and wider use amount to a growing challenge for construction employers who want productive, safe, and healthy jobsites.
A Gallup poll taken July 5 through 9 reaches a conclusion that one in eight American adults smokes marijuana. Among men ages 18 to 29, it’s closer to one in five.
With 29 U.S. states allowing medical marijuana use, and eight allowing recreational use, legal cannabis is taking hold in American society.
There may be obstacles to marijuana becoming fully “accepted” in the United States. Attorney General Sessions appears to be cracking down on marijuana use, and driving under the influence of pot continues to be a concern for many. Despite legal hurdles, however, a record-high percentage of Americans say they have tried marijuana.
Clearly, it didn’t take legalization, decriminalization, nor medical prescriptions to make weed a phenomenon on builders’ jobsites. It’s been a big part of the scene for years. Still, removal of laws and consequences of using makes it a cloudier dilemma for companies that employee workers who use. Three big issues converge around marijuana use and construction:
- Is it impacting skilled labor capacity?
- Does it heighten jobsite risk?
- Is today’s marijuana–with more powerful levels of psycho-active THC–a gateway to addiction to opioid based drugs?
On issue No. 1, New York Times economics correspondent Nelson D. Schwartz reports on how drug use is taking a toll on the economy by suppressing labor capacity in umpteen ways. Schwartz writes:
Even as many states decriminalize recreational marijuana use, or allow access by prescription for medical use, “relaxing drug policies isn’t an option for manufacturers in terms of insurance and liability,” said Edmond C. O’Neal of Northeast Indiana Works, a nonprofit group that provides education and skills training.
“We are talking to employers every day, and they tell us they are having more and more trouble finding people who can pass a drug test,” he said. “I’ve heard kids say pot isn’t a drug. It may not be, but pot will prevent you from getting a job.”
Many in residential construction employer positions can relate. Our own ProSales and Remodeling editor-in-chief Craig Webb researched the construction landscape, exploring how companies are addressing marijuana use in a more relaxed legal environment for a story in BUILDER’s upcoming August issue. Webb searched among large and small construction firms alike for cohesive strategies, policy, or even beliefs on marijuana use among employee associates and came up mostly empty.
Instead, company rules and policies lean toward what is expedient–being able to hire and retain workers–rather than what may be a safer, healthier course of action. Here are a select few highlights from Webb’s coming special report “Where There’s Smoke … “
- … Many empoyers continue to maintain a no-drugs policy, saying it’s the best way to ensure all remain safe. “Our policy is no illegal substances and no grace, you are fired,” declares Terry Albaugh of The Craftsmen Group, Wilmette, Ill. …
- … Tod Sakai, president of Sockeye Construction Corpo., Kent, Wash., says it’s none of his business whether his workers smoke marijuana at 7 p.m. on a work night. “But my expectation is that by 5 a.m., the next day, they need to be sober and ready to go”….
- …”Some in my peer group that do a lot of specialty work say they couldn’t hire anyone if they did drug testing,” says Gary Demos, president of Dave Fox Design-Build Remodelers, in Columbus, Ohio. “We expect a lot from our people in many ways, and it can become very difficult to add production people when we need them. So far we’re holding the line on drug testing, and I hope we won’t be forced to evaluate” ….
- …Ninety-five percent of field workers test positive every time we test,” one remodeler says. “Before we were zero tolerance, but we soon realized we wouldn’t have any workers, including some management” …
The issue of being able to hire workers–as opposed to not being able to–feels like the priority. But then what happens when someone’s safety on the site is at risk and drugs are found to be involved?
Construction, both residential and commercial, is massively decentralized and local, and that’s an impediment to traction for a clean, clear, coherent set of rules, operational mores, and workplace guidelines that protect workers’ health and safety as they earn a living.
What employers want is for associates to be “in the zone” when they’re on the job, not zoned out.