Working With Weed: Marijuana legalization impacts company policies

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Illinois is the first state to legalize recreational marijuana sales through the legislative process rather than a ballot vote. The 23 News I-team takes a look at how this new law will impact company policies.

"I've been personally let go from a job for failing a drug test," said Ryan Warren, who was fired for marijuana use.

After being laid off from his factory job in Machesney Park Warren was eager to return. But didn’t know a drug test was involved and when his test indicated marijuana in his system, the company let him go. Warren doesn’t think it was right.

"It is one of the drugs that stays in your system longer and that doesn't always indicate impairment. You could have used three weeks prior and still test positive three weeks later," Warren said.

Testing for marijuana and revising current work policies is now a big topic of conversation among employers, especially in Illinois which will legalize marijuana use on January first.

"It's really important that we communicate, renew and revise those policies," said Frank Rotello, Alpha Controls & Services.

Alpha Controls & Services is an engineering company that currently has a zero tolerance drug policy.

"We have random drug testing and depending on what would happen, we have a policy in place to work with that employee to give them an opportunity to remedy the situation,” Rotello said.

Rotello is looking into making some changes.

"We value our employees, they are our number one asset and all of these things revolve around how we deal with our employees. In Today’s world when you want to attract and retain the talent you really have to look for the best interest for your employees," Rotello said.

Since many of Rotello's employees are at job sites assisting customers and using company vehicles, he believes continuing with a policy similar to his current one might be best.

"Making sure we are in compliance not only for the safety for our employees but for the overall cost of implementing new policies, it’s really critical to stay on top of that," Rotello said.

"The big issue here is how you balance the Illinois law which allows an employee to use a lawful product like Marijuana outside of working hours and the law which says the employer cannot discriminate against an employer because of the use of those products,” said Jim Pirages, Hinshaw & Culbertson.

Pirages focuses his practice on employers and fields countless questions concerning the new recreational marijuana law.

"This kind of law which now calls into questions what you can test someone for and when you can take action of who uses a lawful product has really put some questions into managing these risks," Pirages said.

Pirages says the best thing employers can do is be very specific when updating their policy.

"With this next six months that we have until this law becomes effective, employers needed to review those policies, to review those practices on drug-free workplaces and on drug testing to make sure that the law is brought up to date,” Pirages said.

Once that's done, Pirages says training is the next step.

"Train your supervisors what kinds of conduct should be on the lookout for determining if somebody might be impaired or under the influence," Pirages said.

This is exactly what would have helped Warren keep his job.

"I wasn't a bad employee at all I was probably a model employee there but that one little thing was a deal breaker for them," Warren said.

Warren believes everything happens for reason and failing that drug test brought him to Mapleglen Care Center where he helps people find the right strand of medical marijuana to ease their symptoms.

"Before in my other jobs I'm sure I helped people in some way or another, but this I have more of a hands-on, face to face helping with people and that's what I love, I really do," Warren said.

Once January hits anyone 21 or older can possess up to 30 grams of cannabis and anyone visiting Illinois can possess up to 15 grams of marijuana.