It’s high time to plan your corporate approach to the legalization of marijuana

On July 1, Canada is set to enable the federal legalization of cannabis through Bill C-45. The process is somewhat more complex in the U.S. as it is managed by the states and differentiated as illegal, decriminalized, medical use only, and legal recreational use. Colorado and Washington led the way with legal recreational use of marijuana in 2012, followed by Oregon in 2015, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada in 2016, and most recently California. Regardless of how each jurisdiction administers this change, there is one thing for certain. The legalization of marijuana is happening and it is imperative that the tech world be prepared.

Four quick facts

  • Statistica reports that the average age of IT workers is 27 at AOL, 28 at Facebook, and 29 at LinkedIn.
  • HeadSet reports that the highest usage of recreational cannabis is reported in adults between the ages of 25 and 29.
  • Silicon Valley is the nickname assigned to the northern part of California that is home to a disproportionately large number of high-tech companies.
  • On January 1, 2018, the sale of recreational marijuana became legal in California.

There is no denying that the demographic of tech workers and recreational marijuana users are similar. This absolutely does not mean that if you are one, then you are the other. What it does mean is that the tech industry cannot deny that there will be some overlap and it is important to accept and plan for that eventuality.

Why now?


Teenagers in the 70s were excited about the concept of the legalization of cannabis. Extremists referred to it as a “gateway drug” that would lead to the use of stronger and more addictive opioids. For the most part, it was considered less controversial than most drugs and there was much conjecture at that time that there would be a political movement to legalize and tax this lucrative business. As government after government realized that the administration behind legalization would be substantial and rather difficult, they moved on to tax initiatives that required less effort. Fast forward to today, when each respective government from municipal, to state, to federal has taxed everything to its maximum tolerance, they must look to previously untapped markets and now the potential revenue far outweighs the labor involved in the development and implementation of the processes and systems required to administer this initiative. While we know that no one can complicate the process of administration more than a government entity, make no qualms about it, this is a revenue-generating business decision, and it will be a lucrative one.

Why it’s important for businesses to know the motivation behind this

The demands of taxpayers have grown and this initiative will help to fund those very demands. This initiative is fiscally motivated and that means it is here to stay. Remember the early days of tech or the dotcom craze? Those with early entry into the market experienced fast and substantial growth. Soon, eager entrepreneurs rushed the market building small startups and targeting niche markets. But the markets became saturated. There was only so much business to go around and soon it became apparent that companies could no longer succeed through organic growth. Basically, the bulk of the customers were taken. Enter the world of growth by acquisition. The big guys went shopping and bought lucrative startups in order to absorb their clientele.

This is where governing entities find themselves today. They are having to look at new tax revenue since gas and electricity and food taxation has reached the point of saturation and a new revenue stream must be acquired. It’s time to ensure that the tech industry is prepared. It’s time to step into the planning phase.

Understand and document your tolerance to marijuana use

Flickr / James St. John

Before jumping into the creation of rules and consequences, take a step back and spend some time to determine the tolerance of your organization. As I used to state ad nauseam to my teenaged children, “There is use and there is abuse.” As with the use of alcohol, in many geographical locations, the recreational use of marijuana is now, or soon will be, legal and there are limitations as to the control an organization can exert over its employees. But the responsibility of the organization to take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of all employees and clientele is very real, as is the assurance to stakeholders and shareholders that important security decisions are not being made while under the influence.

On the other side of the tolerance continuum, we have to face the reality that if there is no proven impact to the organization, employees are within their right to challenge consequences imposed due to test results that show minor traces of THC. Corporately, we need to be able to justify a no-tolerance policy. Don’t set yourself up for long and potentially expensive litigation under either one of these scenarios. The good news is that with some planning, there is plenty of healthy middle ground to be found. The key is planning as there is very little in life and in business that goes well when we fall into reactive mode.

Full disclosure is everything

When facilitating a class, I like to ask participants if they can recite the strategic plan of the organization they work for, and how they contribute to that plan. It’s a pretty standard 30 percent of participants who can answer those two questions and it makes me sad that the percentage is so low. How do we expect employees to get excited if we don’t share with them how wonderful the contributions they make are? It’s the same with this transition to the legalization of cannabis. We need to set the expectation and to communicate and educate. Every project manager around the globe has heard the statement that the No. 1 documented reason that projects fail is due to lack of communication. Even with all of the new tools and social media, we have become even worse at communicating. Ensuring the signing of a corporate policy during the onboarding process is important, but do not consider that to be communication. There is an old phrase that holds true even today. If you want to get your point across, tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. Lather-rinse-repeat… We live in a time of constant input and the need for instant gratification. Making a statement once no longer constitutes communication.

Can’t we all just get along?

We have to accept the fact that the demographics of the tech industry overlap with the demographics of those who imbibe recreational marijuana, and the tech industry has to be ready. While there is substantial research being undertaken to develop a device similar to a Breathalyzer that will actually measure the impairment level of an individual under the influence of marijuana, this device is not yet available. We are left with a very gray area as to what level of THC is acceptable for employees to perform certain roles, tasks, jobs, and responsibilities. Unlike certain inebriants that disappear from our systems within a short period of time, THC does not and we are left to make decisions as to what is an acceptable level. Where we land on that continuum of tolerance needs to be planned, understood, and communicated. We tend to live in a world of all or nothing, but in this case, with some advance thought and planning, we can all exist quite safely and there will be new tax dollars to provide the infrastructure that we have grown to demand.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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