EFFINGHAM — A group of around 30 community members gathered at the Suzette Brumleve Memorial Effingham Public Library this week to discuss recreational cannabis.
Adult-use recreational marijuana will become legal in Illinois on Jan. 1. Illinoisans who are 21 years old and older will be able to legally possess 30 grams of cannabis flower.
The Effingham Public Library and HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital brought in Dr. Marc Shelton, HSHS Vice President and Chief Physician Executive, to discuss the difference between medical and recreational cannabis as well as CBD and THC, the forms of recreational cannabis and its uses and more.
Workplace policies was a hot button issue for some in attendance. Shelton said the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act allows employers to have a no-drug policy and use their own reasoning to assert if an employee is working while high.
“An important quote from the law is that employers may still have reasonable zero tolerance or drug-free workplace policies or employment policies concerning drug testing, smoking consumption, storage or use of cannabis in the workplace or while on call ... provided that the policy is applied in a non-discriminatory manner,” Shelton said.
“Employers may consider applicants or employees to be impaired if they have — and here’s going to be the challenge — a good faith belief that an employee or applicant manifests specific articulatable symptoms, so it’s not specific.”
Shelton said that because cannabis can stay in a person’s system for 30 or more days, traditional drug tests cannot be used to determine if someone is experiencing a high from marijuana. He added that such tests take time to develop and receive Federal Drug Administration approval.
Effingham city Commissioner Merv Gillenwater was among those questioning how businesses and even government entities can police recreational cannabis in the work environment.
Gillenwater said he attended a recent conference of state municipalities that asserted employers can only discipline employees if they show symptoms of being intoxicated on cannabis.
“I work for the city, and we usually have a zero tolerance. You cannot have any drug in your system when you come to work, but with this, they’re saying if you even suspect it, and they don’t really do anything (like) act out in any way that would make you think that they’re under the influence of it, then you better not make that policy. We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to make a policy. What do we do?” Gillenwater said.
Effingham resident Derrick Morrell was also in attendance. Morrell said he supports the legalization of recreational marijuana because he is a current medical marijuana patient who uses medical cannabis to treat PTSD he received from serving in the military, and his medical cannabis regime has worked for him.
Morrell said a drug test is in development that may help employers determine if an employee or applicant is high. The test is a mouth swab, and Morrell said the test would detect residue from smoking marijuana within a certain time frame.
Shelton said a test like the mouth swab would be needed because there are many unknowns regarding how to determine if an employee is under the influence.
Shelton also weighed some pros and cons of legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana. He said the legalization could bring tax revenue for local and state governments, and arrest volumes may dwindle and “unclog” the court systems.
Patients who rely on opioids may use less of the painkillers, and Shelton said some medical literature shows cannabis can quell nausea experienced with chemotherapy.
Shelton said that as with alcohol, there is a potential for individuals to drive or work while under the influence, but testing is not fixed like it is with alcohol. Use of marijuana may lead to use of harder drugs, Shelton said, and there’s a possibility users could treat themselves for medical conditions without taking into account other health risks.
So far, the city of Effingham has taken no action on whether to allow the sale of marijuana. The city council is expected to take action before the end of the year.