Legalization of cannabis should not prevent employers from maintaining drug-free workplace

NJBIA concerned about recent amendments that would reduce power of private businesses

Through the twists and turns on the road to legalized recreational cannabis in New Jersey, the New Jersey Business & Industry Association has charted a singular, center course — workplace safety protections.

We always have maintained that legalization is more than a social issue or a potential revenue driver. Our priority has been steeped in ensuring that any legislation clearly states that legalization of recreational cannabis does not restrict the rights and obligations of public and private employers to maintain a drug-free workplace.

Which is why new amendments to the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance and Marketplace Modernization Act, just introduced last Thursday, are particularly concerning to us.

It is true that some workplace protection language remains in the legislation. But those protections are now weakened by the elimination of safeguards to ensure employers can maintain drug-free workplaces, and for the call in bills A21/S21 for the use of certified experts to make decisions and take action if an employee is suspected of being under the influence.

Let’s be clear, so-called Workplace Impairment Recognition Experts will not be effective in determining which employees are impaired by cannabis, because their training is not based on scientific standards. In fact, New Jersey courts have currently halted the use of such expert evidence in criminal cases.

And, beyond the fact that we should not be mandating employers incur additional expense to hire experts or to train their staff, the amendments now found in Section 47 of the bills essentially place limitations on testing when critical industries and high-risk jobs, in particular, actually need more protections for public safety.

Put simply, these new amendments weaken workplace and public safety protections and will result in added burdens and costs to employers.

More disappointingly, they seemingly favor a person’s ability to use cannabis over protecting public safety. This is the wrong balance as we legalize a new recreational drug into society, and thus into the workplace.

As we saw in the contentious testimony heard in Thursday’s committee hearings, there is still much to consider regarding the legalization of cannabis. We understand the considerable social justice issues that need to be weighed, the discussion of appropriate tax revenues and the unique challenges of standing up a new industry in a short period of time. But we do implore to our policymakers that workplace and public safety are not areas to compromise.

To be sure, if an employee is high on the job, the stakes will be much higher for employers, their workers, their customers and the public.

Ray Cantor is vice president of government affairs for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.