Grand County considers zero tolerance pot policy for employees
April 2, 2014
HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — County commissioners may have agreed to allow recreational marijuana businesses, but they may prohibit their own employees from partaking.
Current regulations for county employees prohibit working while under the influence of any substance that could cause harm to themselves or others. County commissioners and staff agree this policy should continue, but things become murkier with marijuana's legalization in the state of Colorado.
Commissioners must now decide if they'll adopt a "zero tolerance" policy, meaning employees will be banned from smoking off the job, or if they'll treat marijuana like alcohol, allowing employees the freedom to choose during their personal time.
"An individual can do what they want to do, that's why I voted in favor of (recreational) marijuana," said commissioner Gary Bumgarner during a workshop on Tuesday, Feb. 4. "You can work for Grand County, but you have to follow Grand County rules, which to me is zero (marijuana) until such time that science catches up."
Marijuana produces two compounds as it interacts with the body, called metabolites. Enforcers can test for these metabolites to determine if a person has used marijuana, but the presence of a metabolite doesn't necessary mean a person is high. One metabolite is inactive, meaning the tested person could have consumed marijuana months ago. The second metabolite is active, implying the marijuana was recently consumed, and the person could be under the influence of cannabis's psychoactive effects.
Urine testing will show both inactive and active metabolites, but won't differentiate between the two. Blood testing is the most practical way of telling how many of the metabolites are active, but is more costly and less convenient than urine testing.
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Also clouding the issue is the lagging science on the lingering effects of marijuana – how different levels affect different people, how long it takes the "high" to wear off, and how to know the levels of active ingredients in each marijuana plant. Although Colorado's Amendment 64 now regulates marijuana like alcohol, this lack of information makes marijuana use much harder to enforce than alcohol.
The commissioners and staff all agreed during the Tuesday workshop that no employee should be allowed to work while high, with active marijuana metabolites in his or her system. Some argue that a zero tolerance policy, prohibiting all marijuana use, is the best way to protect the county from liability.
"It's just so much easier," said Grand County Attorney Jack DiCola. "It's easier to say 'any marijuana in your system, you're done' … it's easier for enforcement agencies."
Still, commissioners Merrit Linke and James Newberry cited their reluctance to adopt a zero tolerance policy for marijuana use, with Linke saying it's impractical and unenforceable and Newberry implying it created a double standard.
"We have broken new ground in Colorado, whether we like it or not," Newberry said, referring to the state's legalization of cannabis consumption for adults. "That we're going to fire everyone with a trace of marijuana, that makes no sense to me."
Because it was a workshop, the commissioners didn't make any decisions or adopt any resolutions on the matter. Over the coming weeks, they'll be bringing in experts to help them understand the issue further.
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.