Changes in marijuana laws come with consequences
Ryan Summerlin February 25, 2014
Gould Construction prides itself on being community members, employers, co-workers and family members. We are expressing our concern regarding safety issues, and potential job threats that are present because of the new marijuana laws.
It is unfortunate that there has not been a higher level of discussion and education when it comes to how medical or recreational marijuana affects drug-free workplace rules. The federal law takes precedent over state laws when it supplies funding to local projects. There are several other industries where the federal law takes precedence, but we are focusing on construction. Certain public infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, airports and bus stations, can be fully or partially funded by the federal government, and therefore are federally regulated.
As a federal contractor, Gould Construction is required to have a drug-free workplace policy. This means that we have to document and prove to the government that we perform pre-employment drug tests as well as random drug tests, which assure that our entire staff is drug free. If Gould Construction is unable to document or prove that the drug-free policy is in place, then we would either be ineligible to bid and work on a federal contract or we could have an existing contract canceled.
The thing that concerns Gould Construction the most about drug use is job site safety. The construction industry is inherently dangerous. Power tools, heavy equipment, working high above the ground, working in trenches and working among traffic are all hazards that exist on all job sites. Some activities require more teamwork than others, and this means that employee safety is the responsibility of the whole crew not just a single employee. Many of these activities require extreme focus for the whole shift and can be extremely difficult even when fatigue is a factor. No employee should have to go to work and risk their life.
Until appropriate testing procedures and a determination of what impairment is are in place, the only thing that employees can do is to abstain from using marijuana.
It is well-documented that being under the influence during work in certain industries is extremely unsafe. Historically, drug tests have been able to measure whether someone is under the influence or not. The problem with marijuana is twofold. One, there is not a noninvasive, commercially approved testing procedure for determining the content of marijuana in one’s system. Two, there is not an established limit of marijuana content that determines whether someone is under the influence or not. This means that a potential employee can have a beer the night before their pre-employment drug test and have zero alcohol in their system the next morning. This would make them eligible to be hired. If someone uses marijuana the night before their pre-employment drug test, there will still be THC in their system, and that would make them ineligible to be hired. In fact, they may test positive for up to 30 days. The same is true for when random drug tests are conducted. The difference is that instead of not being hired, that person must be terminated.
Gould Construction is legally required to provide a safe workplace on every job and at every place of business, federally funded or not. More importantly, we believe it is our moral obligation as a responsible employer, community members, co-workers and family members to be able to send our employees home to their families in the same condition that they came to work.
In terms of the job market, Gould Construction is nervous that the recent Colorado ruling on marijuana will reduce the amount of workers that can pass a pre-employment or random drug test. This will mean that there are fewer employees making a good living, providing for their family and being productive members of the community. When employees are scarce, the cost of construction will go up. Unfortunately, when the cost of construction goes up on public projects, the taxpayers are the ones who pay the bill. In order to keep up with increasing population, maintaining current infrastructure, or updating infrastructure and public spaces, this means one of two things. Either taxes will go up, or our infrastructure will suffer. In a tourism-driven region, our economy cannot afford to have below-standard infrastructure.
Many people defend the use of marijuana by stating that the drug does not impair a person any more than alcohol. Gould Construction will rely on doctors to make that determination. However, as of right now and in the foreseeable future, Gould Construction, its trade partners and its competitors must employ a zero-tolerance drug policy in order to comply with federal law.
Until appropriate testing procedures and a determination of what impairment are in place, the only thing that employees can do is to abstain from using marijuana. It is also important for the general public and business leaders to educate employees about the risks involved for employment and the community if marijuana is used.
In 2014, Gould Construction is planning to hire/rehire approximately 80 employees. There are a lot of other construction companies that will be hiring as well. This is a big boost to the local economy. We hope that marijuana use will be a nonissue, and that people understand that just because marijuana is legal in Colorado doesn’t mean that there aren’t unintended consequences for using it.
— Mark Gould is president, CEO and CFO of Gould Construction in Glenwood Springs.