Las Vegas Sun

January 23, 2018

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It may be legal, but marijuana use can still get you fired

Although passage of Question 2 will make recreational marijuana use legal for people 21 and older in Nevada as of Jan. 1, employees can be fired for testing positive for the drug, state lawmakers said.

Sen. Tick Segerblom says that while he believes the testing practice isn’t always fair, preventing impairment in the workplace is important. Segerblom spearheaded 2013 legislation to establish the state’s framework for medical marijuana dispensaries.

A staunch advocate of Question 2, he cited jobs in construction and others that involve operating motor vehicles and heavy machinery as examples of work in which a positive marijuana test may warrant firing. But he distinguished between smoking on the job and using marijuana days before a potential test — both of which can produce positive results.

“It’s crazy that someone could be using a legal drug on the weekend and then could test positive,” Segerblom said. “But I think it’s going to be more or less voluntary on the part of the employer.”

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana, is fat-soluble, meaning it is absorbed in fat cells, explained Kelly Kirwan of ARCpoint Labs, a Greenville, S.C.-based drug-testing company with more than 100 labs across the country. THC can stay in a person’s bloodstream from five to 60 days, Kirwan said.

Kirwan, whose lab is in Denver, said she had seen about twice as many positive tests for marijuana there since the plant became legal recreationally in Colorado in 2014. Instead of becoming more lenient toward the drug, however, more employers have adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy, she said. Others have chosen not to test employees at all. Kirwan said she was not aware of any employers that had altered their drug-testing policy specifically to allow for marijuana use.

“A lot of employees mistakenly thought they could smoke now, because all of a sudden it was legal,” Kirwan said. “But then they’d fail their drug test and be fired, because it’s still an illicit drug and against companies’ policies.”

In Las Vegas, ARCpoint lab owner Jimmy Platt said Nevada’s expanding medical marijuana program had spurred more workers to get tested privately at his lab in advance of their employer-required drug tests. Platt, whose lab tests samples for more than 100 employers across the valley, said he expected that number to continue rising as recreational dispensaries opened.

As in Colorado, Nevada employers weren’t expected to immediately change their policies, Segerblom and local officials said.

Clark County Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani said employers would have the ultimate say on what’s allowed. While Giunchigliani said she disagreed with drug testing because she believed it too often produced inaccurate results, local governments would not force employers to move away from such testing. Clark County government employees still will be subject to the same testing.

“Whether the state Legislature addresses drug testing remains to be seen,” Giunchigliani said. “But that’s not something we’ll be looking at.”

While Nevada’s medical marijuana industry recommends that the “medical needs of (an) employee who engages in medical use of marijuana to be accommodated by (their) employer,” according to Nevada Revised Statute 453a, it doesn’t mandate that employers make that accommodation. And Segerblom said he didn’t anticipate such a provision being included in the legislation for recreational marijuana.

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