Marijuana: O.penVAPE changes its drug-testing policy after pot-advocate criticism
Update below: Back in January, as part of a post about a marijuana tour hosted by O.penVAPE, a Denver-based firm whose vape pens and other products have been acclaimed by cannasseurs across the planet, we published the photo above, in which company chief revenue officer Todd Mitchem can be seen enjoying some herb just after recreational use became legal.
Photo by Christine Cool O.pen VAPE's Todd Mitchem with Boulder Weekly cannabis columnist Leland Rucker.
The image doesn't suggest that Mitchem would be in favor of drug-testing his employees -- but in April, the firm announced that it would be doing exactly that. The result was a month of controversy, with a well-known pot advocate jousting with Mitchem on social media over the approach. Now, however, O.penVAPE has amended its policy and the critic is praising Mitchem for doing the right thing.
Following U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's public comments that he would work with Congress to reexamine how marijuana is scheduled, O.penVAPE, the largest brand in the cannabis industry, has announced it will begin testing its employees for dangerous drug abuse.It should be noted that Mitchem doesn't single out cannabis as a "dangerous drug" and argues that the DEA's continued listing of it as a Schedule 1 narcotic is wrong. But he also made it clear in the release that O.penVAPE staffers were not allowed to use pot immediately before or during work.
Todd Mitchem, O.PenVAPE's chief revenue officer and public spokesperson, said the company wants to lead by example and reinforce the important differentiation between cannabis and other scheduled drugs.
"Unlike dangerous drugs, cannabis can be part of a healthy lifestyle that promotes wellness," Mitchem said. "We always encourage consumers to use cannabis responsibly, and, as such, we have implemented a stringent drug policy for our own employees. O.penVAPE understands that, as the largest brand in the cannabis industry, our view holds weight -- and our view is simple: we won't tolerate dangerous drug use by our employees."
Among those taking issue with O.penVAPE's policy was Tom Angell, head of the advocacy organization Marijuana Majority and a regular presence in Westword posts. As documented by a post published earlier this month by CelebStoner.com, Angell tweeted Mitchem the following: ""Can we talk about @openvape drug testing policy ASAP in lieu of public campaign/petition against it." (Angell says he and fellow critics considered launching a Change.org petition on the subject.)
Tom Angell in a 2012 photo.
Mitchem's reported reply: "We are keeping people safe. So sorry you don't care about employee safety. Grown ups need to behave differently."
More Twitter back-and-forths followed. Here's how CelebStoner synopsizes Mitchem's responses:
"I guess I missed the memo where the MJ community was fighting for employers embracing the abuse of dangerous drugs.... The point here is that we must teach the public cannabis doesn't belong in the same category as dangerous drugs.... The strategy was careful to support mainstream cannabis use but protect the industry from dangerous accidents.... We're also against the war on drugs, it's a failure. But we want to keep our team safe. We are aligned with you.... I love this industry. I use cannabis. I want my team to be safe at work. I respect you all.... As a community & industry we all agree War on Drugs has failed. Lets put our minds together on how to address work place safety."
Nonetheless, controversy over O.penVAPE's position continued to roil, and eventually the company agreed to take part in a conference call with Angell and representatives of other marijuana-advocacy groups, including NORML. The result is a brand new drug policy that's far less harsh. We've reproduced the old and the new policies below in their entirety, but here are a couple of telling excerpts.
First, here's a passage from the old policy:
All employees should report evidence of cannabis, alcohol or dangerous drug abuse to their supervisor immediately. In cases in which the use of cannabis, alcohol or dangerous drugs creates an imminent threat to the safety of persons or property, employees are required by O.penVAPE to report the violation. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.Compare that to the following section from the new policy:
The Company supports an employee's freedom to choose legal substances in their off-work time. However, employees are prohibited from consuming legal but impairing substances, including cannabis and alcohol, during working hours, including during meal and break periods. This does not include the legal, authorized and responsible use of cannabis and alcohol at Company-sponsored functions or activities.
Angell, meanwhile, shared the following comment with us via e-mail.
"This started off as a really unfortunate incident of drug-war ignorance but ended up being a positive learning experience," he writes. "What happened here shows that even among those allies who 'get it' with respect to marijuana, there's still a lot of internalized stereotypes and misinformation about other drugs, the people who use them and the fairness and effectiveness of the policies that purport to prevent and treat abuse of those substances.
"The real takeaway here is that it's important for companies in the emerging legal marijuana industry to know that the activists who worked so hard to enact the laws that their businesses are built on will be around to monitor implementation and make sure it lives up to the principles that our drug policy reform movement has fought for so long to make into reality," he continues. "While O.Pen Vape truly erred with their initial policy, they deserve thanks and congratulations for taking the time to hear our concerns and make things right in the end."
Update: Shortly after the publication of our original post, Todd Mitchem reached out and offered the following comments via e-mail.
"The intent of our policy was always to move cannabis away from other more illegal substances," he writes: "We also wanted to keep lab employees safe. What we discovered through fantastic debate was that the real issue was impairment. We don't want people to be impaired at work for any reason. Because of this realization, we went back to the drawing board for two weeks. It was a wonderful exercise in collaboration, which led us to something truly groundbreaking. We now have a policy that we are very proud of and that talks about real impairment awareness."
Mitchem adds that "while I did not appreciate the aggressive tone by the activists (by the way I reacted poorly also), I believe now we can all move forward together in a more conscious, collaborative manner."
He concludes: "I appreciate all of the support the O.penVAPE customers and team have shown us and I am very excited for the future as we continue to expand."
Continue to see the previous O.penVAPE drug policy and the new version.