There's no argument that opioids can be a problem. Addiction comes quickly. Illegal use runs rampant. Whether the user (aside from those in real pain after surgery) is diseased or a troublemaker, society, in general, agrees that opioid misuse represents a deviation from the norm.
Not so for marijuana -- a substance with a murky status, legally, socially and medically. It puts employers in a quandary, says former Eagles defensive lineman Mike Chalenski, founder and CEO of CSS Inc., a background and drug screening company in New Jersey.
"I think marijuana is going to be a real sticky subject," Chalenski told me during our Executive Q&A interview published in the Sunday Inquirer's business section.
Why is that?
Because you have certain states that are legalizing medical marijuana. I don’t know how much regulation has been put around it yet.
How does it differ from, for example, opioids?
From a process standpoint, there are legally prescribed drugs. [If a test comes back positive], it goes to a medical review officer. He determines whether it’s a legally prescribed drug. If they’re supposed to be taking one pill a day and they’re taking 50 pills a day, the level would be off the charts. That’s the verification process. For marijuana, it’s still evolving. So, I think there’s a lot of uncertainty.
You mean employers don’t know what level to accept?
Well, yes. Just think about people having access that are climbing poles for the telecommunication industries or putting the cell towers up. You’ve got the whole safety issue to deal with. It’s a very complex issue.
So, marijuana is really the confusing part of this business at the moment.
At the moment, yes, because you have certain states are legalizing it and doctors are prescribing it. Then, again, it goes down to the safety sense of construction. Like construction workers. They walk across those bridges on things that are two foot wide. If they’re under the influence of anything -- I mean I would assume that you would get a little wobbly -- whether it’s alcohol, marijuana or opioids, or whatever drug it may be. There are a lot of issues that have not been worked on where it’s appropriate and where it’s not.
It’s really in flux right now, with attitudes shifting.
I think so. You can just look at the states. If you were to have asked me 10 years ago, would marijuana be legal, I would have never thought it would have been medically accepted at this point by the government. But it is. How do we as a business now deal with it? Then going forward, what effect is it going to have? I think it still remains to be seen.
It seems worrisome, because there are no clear standards. Alcohol is pretty well documented. Every beverage has a label noting the percentage of alcohol content. States have their definitions of intoxication. But nothing's standard for marijuana.
It’s all a matter of how long it stays in your system. I’m not a toxicologist. So, that is not my expertise. I run a business. But it all depends on how that drug is metabolized into your system. Everybody goes out and has a drink. You say wait on hour. You had these many drinks, you’re not impaired. I don’t think there’s any studies out there on marijuana, like if you smoke one joint that has this much marijuana in it, you wait and hour and it’s going to decrease out of your system to where you’re no longer impaired. So, until there’s guidelines put around that, it’s still going to be kind of in flux, because if somebody is driving a car, they’re impaired, no matter what whether it's alcohol or marijuana. How do you measure? We have breathalyzers that people blow into now to see if they’re under the influence.
Yes. I don’t know what they do for marijuana.
Next: What being an Eagle taught Chalenski about business and leadership.