With the legalization of recreational cannabis on the horizon, employers in northwest Illinois are scrambling to determine how to adjust drug-testing policies.
On Jan. 1, the sale and use of recreational marijuana will become legal for adults in Illinois. Cannabis stores are anticipated to sprout up throughout the state.
While the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, adopted earlier this year, sets several standards and regulations, it does not limit employers’ ability to test for the presence of marijuana. However, potential legal challenges are brewing.
Public-sector employers in Jo Daviess County already subject employees to random drug testing. However, they are uncertain how employee drug policies will change with the legalization of marijuana.
“We don’t have a lot of time to be prepared, but we need to figure out how this will change things,” said Chuck Korte, president of the Galena School Board. “We know it’s going to be more prevalent.”
Korte said Galena school district leaders have not adopted an official policy that addresses the legalization of cannabis, but he noted that it will be a major topic of discussion in December.
Galena schools officials aren’t alone. East Dubuque district Superintendent TJ Potts said his board is waiting to make any changes until members receive some guidance from the state.
“We’re hoping to have something before the beginning of the next school year for sure,” Potts said. “It’s on our radar, and we are trying to determine what is acceptable to have in our policy.”
Potts added that it will remain a priority of the school district to keep marijuana out of the hands of students.
Municipalities also are grappling with how to approach marijuana when it comes to drug testing employees.
Galena City Administrator Mark Moran said City Council members have not yet changed current drug testing policy, which allows for a test to be conducted if there is a reasonable suspicion of use.
He said the policy could be addressed during the spring, when the city will be discussing union contract renewal with city employees.
“I imagine that it may be a topic then,” Moran said. “At an organization level, we have not discussed it yet.”
East Dubuque City Manager Loras Herrig said his City Council has not voted on a new drug testing policy for employees. However, they have — unofficially — moved toward enacting a zero-tolerance policy.
“We just have to be zero tolerance,” Herrig said. “It’s just too much of a risk, both for our residents and for employees.”
Herrig said the policy will require that any employee who is drug tested must not show signs of having marijuana in his or her system. He noted that city employees can be subject to random testing.
Private employers also are examining policies.
Tyler Culbertson, owner of T&T Iron & Metals, Inc. of East Dubuque, said his policy is unlikely to change. He said he doesn’t think the drug’s legalization will have an impact on his employees.
“The people that do it now are still going to do it,” Culbertson said. “If they work for us, they do it on their own time. If they get hurt, we can do a drug test.”
Herrig said he believes most employers will leave their policies mostly unchanged.
“I don’t think there is really much of a choice,” Herrig said. “If they have an insurance provider, that is what they are going to tell them to do. It’s just too much of a risk to do anything else.”