Workplace Weed Use Leaves Employers Scratching Their Heads

By Rebecca Greenfield | March 3, 2017

When Jeffrey Zucker needs to get a lot done at work, he eats half a weed gummy. Far from putting him at risk of a Maureen Dowd-level stupor, the 5-milligram dose of THC he gets gives him just a slight buzz that makes him more focused and creative, he says.

Does Zucker worry that his boss might find out he’s doing drugs at work? Well, no, because he’s in charge. Zucker runs Green Lion Partners, a Denver-based venture firm that backs cannabis-related companies, and he says he encourages his employees to “do whatever will make them the most successful”—even eat small amounts of weed-infused candy.

With recreational marijuana now legal in eight states and the District of Columbia, users have gravitated to low-dose edibles, such as brownies and mints with THC content of less than 5 milligrams—low enough for a manageable high for first-time users. Often, companies market these products to first-time users or those with low tolerances. But weed sellers have found another use case for low-dose edibles: microdosing.

Microdosing refers to regularly taking small amounts of drugs—generally, hard-to-get and illegal psychoactive ones, such as LSD or psychedelic mushrooms—throughout the day to boost creativity. Taken in such small quantities, the drugs don’t make users trip. Rather, people claim the drugs improve their concentration, problem-solving abilities, creativity, and productivity and reduce their anxiety.

Some say ingesting small amounts of marijuana throughout the workday can have similar effects. And unlike LSD or mushrooms, weed is widely available and legal in many places.

Marquise Prentice, a 33-year-old director of IT at a law firm in Los Angeles, pops multiple low-dose mints per day. He says they help him with inflammation, indigestion, and managing stress and anxiety. “I’m not digesting a crazy amount of marijuana and falling asleep at my desk,” he says. “I’m active all day, functioning, and completing my tasks.”

“People aren’t using drugs to get blasted into outer space,” adds Christie Strong, the marketing communications manager at Kiva Confections, a California-based edibles maker. “In a small amount, people are finding they are having more focus, instead of that typical cannabis experience when they’re a little distracted and hazy.”

Kiva’s Terra Bites, chocolate-covered espresso beans with 5 milligrams of THC, are its bestseller. After hearing they were especially popular among workers and that some would have half of one before work, Kiva decided last fall to make a lower-dose product—Petra Mints, 2.5-milligram mints “that puts you in control.”

Kiva markets the mints in part as a way for workers to enhance the workday. “The small dose makes it possible to use cannabis as part of a daily routine, as there is no interference with work, focus, or energy levels,” reads a guide to microdosing that the company put out with its mints. There’s also less risk they’ll get you too high. (“With a mint, you already intuitively know not to take a handful,” says Strong.)

Employers have struggled with how to handle workers’ marijuana use as more states have begun legalizing it. “A lot of clients are like, ‘What do we do?'” said James Reidy, an employment lawyer who helps companies with their HR and marijuana policies.

Legally, employers have a lot of leeway. Even in pot-friendly Colorado, the state’s highest court decided in 2015 that it was legal to fire an employee for using medical marijuana outside of work. Companies can face liability issues if workers hurt someone or have an accident in the office while they’re under the influence. Matt Biscan, a Denver-based employment lawyer who works with dozens of companies on workplace weed policies, says many of his clients have had problems with employees coming to work acting “inebriated” or “funny.”

Yet many companies already struggling to hire in a tight labor market have backed away from drug testing, and many turn a blind eye to using outside of work, said Reidy. About a third of employers surveyed in 2015 by the Society for Human Resource Management said they wouldn’t hire someone who admitted to consuming weed, even for medical reasons.

But employers tend draw the line at using at work. Many workplaces have zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policies; Kiva, citing safety concerns, is one such office. (Medical marijuana, however, has led to some confusion. “What is the definition of ‘drugs?'” said Reidy. “Can I have my prescription drugs that I need?”)

Still, even companies that take a hard line on employee drug use may have a hard time detecting microdosers, he said. Mints don’t smell, and when workers are ingesting pot in such small amounts, they don’t register as high.

For certain kinds of workers, the risk of using at work is low, argues Tim Moxey, who runs Botanica Seattle, which makes low-dose mints and brownies. His company’s 5-milligram mint is the bestselling edible in Washington state, according to two cannabis data analytics companies, Lemonhaze and Headset.

“I’m not saying have cannabis and drive a forklift. That is a bad idea,” he said. “If you are professionally using your brain and find it works for you, go for it. I don’t have any moral objection to that.”

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