The states of Washington and Colorado have legalized recreational marijuana use and 20 states have legalized some form of medicinal marijuana use. Some employers may feel they are heading into uncharted waters when it comes to their drug and alcohol policies, especially when the question is whether the employee is “under the influence.”
Now the Coast Guard has spoken loud and clear. From a maritime perspective, the policy is still zero tolerance. The agency released a Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB) this week that says very clearly that marijuana is still a prohibited Schedule 1 prohibited substance and any trace in a drug test may cost mariners their credentials or be a factor in an incident investigation. A good source of maritime news is the blog run by Dennis Bryant and you can find the announcement that he posted here.
This is good news for maritime employers because it says there is no grey area. It makes it much easier for them to impose a zero tolerance policy because they are following the policy of the agency that regulates them.
However it doesn’t make their job any easier in educating their employees on the rules. It is very likely that a mariner will take a g”Rocky Mountain High” vacation in Colorado on the assumption that it is legal, only to take a surprise drug test that can cost him his job when he gets home. Employers need to make their policies very clear.
It is also possible that the question of impairment comes up in the future. According to online sources, a DOT urine test shows traces of alcohol for up to 24 hours, but marijuana can show up for 7-60 days depending on the use. Some court somewhere may wind up having to answer the question of whether use a month ago equals impairment today. For for now, the Coast Guard has probably done everyone a real favor.