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Presidents Article

President’s message

CANNABIS AND WORKPLACE SAFETY

Finally, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) has approved a first round of licenses to allow the opening of recreational cannabis distribution centers in New Jersey. Seven licenses have been awarded to current growers of medicinal cannabis allowing them to open 13 retail distribution centers. It has been a long time coming, almost 18 months after the state overwhelmingly voted for legalization.

The CRC has been amazingly slow in getting cannabis sales up and running. Given, they were starting from scratch, with no organization, no staff and no experience. It was always going to be a mess. Yet the bigger problem is the CRC continues to ignore the broader safety implications of legalized cannabis.

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country. We also have the highest geographic concentration of chemical manufacturing anywhere and we all know how congested and dangerous our roads are.

Stop and think for a minute about the implications of a stoned truck driver carrying a load of gasoline. Or a welder high as a kite working next to a pressurized chlorine tank. Or how about a school bus driver who decided to smoke a joint before picking up a bunch of kindergartners on their way home from school.

Also remember that doing a urine or blood test to detect the presence of cannabis no longer has any relevance since it does not determine intoxication. You can test positive for weeks after getting high at home one weekend even though the effects of the drug wear off fairly quickly.

The Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization (CREAMM) Act anticipated this dilemma and calls for the establishment of the Workplace Impairment Recognition Expert (WIRE) program. The act does not, however, specify exactly what the WIRE program should look like or when it should be launched. Rather, it instructs the CRC to work with the Police Training Commission (PTC) to develop the program.

So what does the WIRE program look like? Who knows? The CRC hasn’t even started thinking about it. When I reached out to the PTC late last year, they didn’t even know they had a role to play until my call. No one told them they were responsible for this monumentally important program.

Worse, the PTC is woefully unequipped to develop a WIRE program. They are responsible for developing training curricula for police academies. Academy training does not include drug recognition protocols. So you have an agency, the CRC, that seemingly has no interest in launching the WIRE program, coordinating with an agency, the PTC, which has no expertise in designing it.

My fear is that the default will be the DRE, or Drug Recognition Expert program. This is a national program which is only available to police. It is overseen in New Jersey by the State Police and training is long, rigorous and very expensive. Businesses will not have the time or resources to have someone on staff trained to the level of DRE. It takes years to obtain and costs tens of thousands of dollars.

So why not have the police take over this role? Just call the police when you suspect you have a stoned employee. First, police are not authorized to investigate workplace safety issues. Second, who wants the cops showing up for what is basically an employment issue?

What a conundrum. If you have an accident because of an impaired worker, who do you think is going to be held liable? If you fire someone because of a drug test, they’ll sue you and they will win. But there are no standards for how to determine if someone is impaired.

The Cannabis Regulatory Commission needs to take this seriously. People, maybe a lot of people, are going to be hurt because of their inaction. Call your legislator and let them know your concern. Our efforts with the CRC have so far fallen on deaf ears.

           

Jim Coyle

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