A look at the drug issue from a landscape perspective

March 28, 2018 -  By

The legalization of marijuana in some states and the opioid crisis present a challenge for labor-starved landscape companies. These landscape industry pros weigh in with their thoughts on the issue.

Chris Bright
CEO, Seabreeze Property Services
Portland, Maine

The team at Seabreeze Property Services in Portland, Maine, has been touched by employee drug overdoses more than once. Sadly, one of those cases resulted in the death of a female crew member who was in recovery, relapsed and died.

“It’s pretty prevalent all around us,” says CEO Chris Bright, noting the company brought in grief counselors to assist team members. He adds that many employees have had friends or family members touched by the opioid crisis in one way or another, and he estimates 30 percent of the company’s staff is in recovery for drugs or alcohol.

“We know there’s a drug problem in our community, and a lot of our folks are in recovery or are dealing with friends who have died,” he says. “What can we do? Let’s give an alternate lifestyle to drugs and see if we can help pivot them to healthy choices.”

That sentiment led Bright to install a CrossFit-style gym in the Seabreeze facility last year. The fitness center, which the company spent about $6,000 to launch, includes a rowing machine, weight benches, squatting stations, a pull-up station, kettle bells and dumbbells. Bright partnered with a local CrossFit coach to come in and teach classes. The unpredictable winter schedule posed some challenges, so the program was tabled until the spring, when Bright plans to offer morning classes to kick off the day.

Bright says he and the company’s leadership team feel a responsibility to be part of the solution and also to look at the issue of employee drug use from a practical standpoint.

The company is working on implementing a pre-employment drug-testing policy, and it immediately tests employees involved in accidents. The legalization of marijuana in Maine is complicating matters, Bright says. It essentially requires companies to treat pot like alcohol and potentially not include it in pre-employment tests.

“If they’re high or drinking on the job, we will terminate,” he says. “There has to be that distinction. But if they are a good worker and (drug use) happens off the clock, we will work with them to get them the help they need.”

That may include holding their job while they enter and complete a treatment program.

Seabreeze installed a CrossFit-style gym in its facility to help promote a healthy lifestyle.

—Marisa Palmieri

Elise Johnson
Vice President of Human Resources, Yellowstone Landscape
Bunnell, Fla.

Elise Johnson, vice president for Yellowstone Landscape in Bunnell, Fla., strives to keep the company’s drug-testing policies up-to-date to manage risk. It’s an ongoing effort, she notes. Currently the company drug tests on a pre-employment basis, post-incident and upon reasonable suspicion. She offers a few tips for other companies looking to implement a drug-testing program.

  • Communicate upfront that you drug test. Yellowstone has signage and verbally informs applicants to deter drug users from applying, which keeps positive test results down.
  • Consistency is key. For example, if a company says it has a “zero-tolerance” policy, and then doesn’t fire an employee who tests positive, the company is at risk for a discrimination lawsuit. Any policy must be enforced consistently and fairly, she says.
  • Consider oral swab tests to keep costs down. “It wasn’t until we decided to go with oral swabs that it made sense to do pre-employment testing,” she said. They cost about $10 a test, compared with three or four times that for a clinical urine test. There are additional charges if an oral swab specimen is presumed positive, at which point it’s sent to a lab for confirmation.

Communicating upfront that your company is a drug-free workplace is a good move.


John Reffel III
President, JLS Landscape
Sedalia, Colo.

“We don’t test that much. We’re a smaller company. Being in Colorado, that may change.

Our policy is if there is an injury or accident, you must immediately get tested. Luckily, we’ve only had to do that twice in the last 10 years. We don’t drug test when hiring. In our manual, it states that we reserve that right to drug test at any point.

The way we understand the law is we have the right to fire or discipline anybody who tests positive for marijuana because it’s still illegal under federal law. It’s been tested in the courts (Coats v. DISH). The employer prevailed. It was his right not to allow a worker on the job who was under the influence of marijuana.

For us, being contractors, if you put 12,000 pounds of truck, trailer and equipment on the road, you better make sure somebody isn’t drunk and/or stoned when they’re driving down the road.

We use the Mountain State Employers Council as a resource. Per their advice, marijuana is no different than alcohol. We wouldn’t allow someone to drink, take a truck out and drive across town. It’s the same with marijuana.”

John Reffel III (lower right) says he does his best to keep up with employer drug-testing regulations.

—As told to M.P.

The legalization of marijuana in some states and the opioid crisis present a challenge for labor-starved landscape companies. Do you have a plan to manage this issue? Check out our March cover story to learn more.

Photos: Seabreeze Property Services (top), Yellowstone Landscape (middle), JLS Landscape (bottom)

This is posted in Featured, March 2018
Marisa Palmieri

About the Author:

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

2 Comments on "A look at the drug issue from a landscape perspective"

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  1. One challenge many are not aware of yet: the legalized marijuana industry competes with plant growers, nurseries, and landscapers for the same labor pool. The marijuana growers here in OR start their payscale at $25/hr. The work is much less labor intensive, and since many banks won’t work with these businesses (since it is still illegal at the Federal level), they often pay cash.

  2. Shaun M says:

    Here in Canada marijuana is to be legalized across the country this summer. Each province is trying to create it own controls for the substance while businesses like ours will have to deal with the fallout on a daily basis. We have no way of testing our employees here yet and I’m not sure if our laws allow it. If we have an employee that is determined to have an alcohol problem once identified we have to keep them on salary through an abuse program and until they are capable of working again. I assume it will be the same for marijuana abusers. As an employer I don’t look forward to this new world.