MI: Marijuana Laws, Legalization A New Challenge For Area Business Leaders

Photo Credit: Grant Hindsley

Manufacturers in the Muskegon area say they’re growing in tremendous ways – they just need personable workers that can show up on time and pass a drug test.

That was the consensus shared among panelists at the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce’s February Business for Breakfast discussion held Friday at the Muskegon Area Career Tech Center.

The discussion was led by Steve Olsen of Northern Machine Tool. Panelists included Curtis Evans, human resources manager for GE Aviation, Bruce Kratt, president of Coles Quality Foods, and Jill Batka, president of Dynamic Conveyer Corporation.

Each panelist waxed philosophical about the climate for manufacturers in Muskegon County with an emphasis on hiring skilled and unskilled workers.

But as the discussion opened to questions from chamber members, the conversation shifted to what those business owners might change – or not change – about their drug testing policies should voters approve a marijuana legalization measure on the November ballot.

“We have a lot of qualified people who can’t pass a drug test,” said Mark Hoofman, president of Bauer Sheet Metal & Fabricating Inc. “If there wasn’t an insurance aspect involved, I’d honestly drop the drug test completely, because there’s no way of knowing … if you’re stoned now or if you had something over the weekend.

“When I went to college, my Jack Daniels friends were the ones who always drove too fast or wanted to fight somebody, whereas my pot friends they wanted to each chocolate chip pizza and watch cartoons,” Hoofman said. “With more and more states legalizing, I’m wondering what’s the next step?”

Olsen said discussion of the topic is becoming more prevalent, and no one has a solid answer on how to navigate it.

“At business roundtables I’ve participated in, we used to talk about China, Korea and other offshore competitors, but know we focus on workforce development … and some manufacturers are talking about marijuana issues,” Olson said.

Evans said no matter what happens, GE Aviation’s policies likely will not change.

“We do have a drug test, and it predates to 1998 when were required to become a drug-free workplace,” Evans said. “Ironically, other than wanting to eat pizza, our experience has been that the people who have substance abuse issues also are the ones that don’t have the best attendance in the world, and are not the most productive employees.

“We have that problem with our entry level people, and although we tell them to ‘study hard for it,’ they just don’t seem to get what we’re talking about.”

Still, Evans said his company may have to be open to increased recreational use if voters pass the ballot proposal in the fall.

Kratt, whose company produces 50 million loaves of garlic bread shipped nationwide per year, said they have a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and pot.

“We do not hire dirty tests,” Kratt said. “We work in an environment that they can get hurt or injured if they don’t have their full faculties about them. Our workers have to get a drug test if they get injured on the job, but most of them usually pass. It’s the (applicants) out of the gate where we have problems.

“We lose close to 50 percent of our applicants to the drug test.”

Batka, who runs the conveyer belt company her father started years ago, said it has been a while since Dynamic had a candidate who didn’t pass the test.

“We do have a statement on our website notifying applicants that there will be a drug test,” Batka said. “That might have something to do with it. We tell them figure out how to pass the dirt or don’t apply.”