CABI hosts workshop on ‘Marijuana and the Workplace’

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CABI President Brian Mahoney (center) presented Certificates of Appreciation to Jody Middleton and Ken Berkowitz for their presentations on Marijuana and the Workplace. Barry Okun photo

CABI President Brian Mahoney (center) presented Certificates of Appreciation to Jody Middleton and Ken Berkowitz for their presentations on Marijuana and the Workplace. Barry Okun photo

The Canton Association of Business & Industry (CABI) hosted a “Lunch and Learn” event on Wednesday, April 26, on Marijuana and the Workplace: Understanding the New Regulations. CABI President Brian Mahoney welcomed the association’s members and guests, and introduced the featured speakers: Canton Police Chief Ken Berkowitz and Human Resources Director Jody Middleton.

Middleton provided an overview of guidelines and strategies for employers and fielded questions from the group. She was quick to note that Massachusetts employers are dealing with a “brand-new law and an ever-evolving issue.” As of April 19, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group, Massachusetts is one of 29 states where the use of medical marijuana is now legal. Massachusetts is also one of eight states that have legalized the “recreational use” of marijuana.

Middleton’s advice to employers is to institute a drug and alcohol policy if they do not currently have one in place because marijuana use will fall under that policy. Several attendees asked how employers can prepare for the possibility of workers injuring themselves or others while impaired by marijuana.

People working in some professions may be required by federal laws and regulations to be “drug-free”; federal laws and regulations would supersede those in Massachusetts for these positions. Middleton used an example of an employee who requires a special driver’s license who needs to comply not only with state law but with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s guidelines on drug use and testing protocols. If an employer is concerned that use of medical marijuana or another prescription drug is impacting the performance of employees in a safety role, they can request these employees share their job description with their doctors to be cleared for work.

Berkowitz continues to look at issues other states have regarding medical and recreational marijuana to stay current with best practices and learn from their experience. He is concerned that motor vehicle accidents and fatalities have risen in Colorado since they legalized marijuana. He also spoke about the need for several Canton police officers to be trained as Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) to determine if a driver is impaired due to marijuana use as compared to alcohol because signs of impairment may be different.

Much of the meeting focused on recreational marijuana use, but attendees did have questions about a zoning article, which led to debate within the group. Berkowitz said that as the Massachusetts law is written, a facility could take a medical marijuana license and seek to change itself to a retail establishment to sell recreational products. Many retail establishments sell marijuana-infused beverages and food items like cookies and candies that are made to look similar to popular consumer products currently on the market in regular stores. Berkowitz talked about how these items are meant to attract a younger audience and compared what the recreational marijuana industry is doing today to what tobacco companies did decades ago, mentioning Camel cigarettes’ use of the “Joe Camel” cartoon in ads to target children. The legal age to purchase marijuana in Massachusetts is 21.

Berkowitz was interested in hearing what local business people at the meeting thought about the possibility of a medical marijuana distribution facility or a retail shop opening in Canton. He noted that the way the law is written in Colorado is different from Massachusetts, specifically that in Colorado cities and towns have to “opt in” for a marijuana business to open in their community and in Massachusetts they need to “opt out.” A marijuana business could open in Canton unless a city or town votes it out by referendum. According to Berkowitz, Norwood and Walpole have “opted out” and will not allow a marijuana facility to open there. On May 8, residents of Canton voted to pass Article 52 to amend a zoning bylaw that would add special requirements for licensed marijuana establishments (those not medically prescribed). The article also institutes a temporary moratorium on retail marijuana establishments in Canton until June 30, 2018.

CABI is a nonprofit corporation working since 1972 to make Canton a better community for both business and residents. The organization is made up of commercial enterprises, educational institutions and nonprofits either based in Canton or doing business in Canton. For more information, visit www.cantonbusiness.org.

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