From The Editor

Cheech and Chong’s Adventures in Manufacturing

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This past month marked my 14th anniversary at Metal Center News, which means I’ve been involved with, in one way or another, the production of roughly 750 feature articles. None of them, until this issue, ever involved pot. 

The genesis for the November feature article was a conversation I had about a year ago with Bill Douglass, CEO of Lex Steel. We were in his office, chatting about his company and a raft of industry issues, when he casually brought up pot (for the record, and to protect Bill’s good name, it was brought up merely as a topic of conversation). 

Marijuana was not yet permissible in Illinois, where Douglass’ service center company was headquartered, but the legalese was on the wall. Legalized marijuana, already in place in Colorado, Oregon and an increasing number of states, was coming to the industrial Midwest. That happened in late June when new Governor Jay Pritzker signed the bill into law, making Illinois the 10th state, plus the District of Columbia, to fully legalize marijuana. It joined 20 other states that permitted medicinal marijuana. 

Before that happened, Douglass had some concerns about how it was going to affect distribution companies such as Lex Steel.

His fears were legitimate and well-reasoned. Moreover, they were issues that I hadn’t heard discussed much in the ongoing debates on the subject by politicians and activists for and against: How does a manufacturing company that drug tests deal with a now-legalized marijuana? How will the difficulties in testing be resolved, given the length of time marijuana stays in the bloodstream? How it will affect employee retention in a challenging labor environment? How will it affect insurance rates?; how does a company distinguish, if possible, between marijuana used for medicinal purposes and usage that is strictly recreational? 

Contributing writer Philip Perry addresses these issues and more with business executives who have been on the frontlines of the issue. And it’s a topic that continues to evolve, since the subject is so new and case law, which usually serves as the guidepost for companies, is so scant.  

For those companies who have suddenly found themselves asking these questions, the most salient advice seems to be to keep your legal representation on speed dial. Following legal advice may not be a guarantee of protection given the quickly evolving nature of the subject, but it remains the safest bet. 

Whether you’re just now confronting the challenges posed by legalized marijuana, or it’s not yet on the agenda at your local statehouse, the momentum suggests most companies in the manufacturing sector will someday be dealing with the subject. Here’s hoping that a solid, court-tested framework is in place before any metal distribution companies face the perils of the unknown. 

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