About 15 years ago, I was having a friendly debate with a co-worker about the legalization of marijuana. Medical pot was just starting to grow beyond California and there was still a lot of resistance to its use in the medical community.

I remember the co-worker saying that in a decade or so, it would be legal for all uses. I scoffed. Not going to happen in the next 25 years, I said. Now, I’m not so sure.

Today, the majority of states allow the use of pot for medical purposes and another seven and Washington, D.C., have passed full legalization, allowing it to be bought and used in a regulated environment similar to alcohol and tobacco. Vermont is close to legalizing it as well.

Under federal law, however, it remains banned, and its status as an illicit drug like heroin or LSD makes research into any legitimate medical uses difficult — a fact that many supporters of medical marijuana omit.

Its federal status is not likely to change anytime soon. Congress doesn’t seem interested, and the Trump administration recently rescinded an Obama-era rule that largely made marijuana a state and local concern as long as some controls were in place.

What this all means for the construction industry in general or HVAC in particular is as cloudy as a 1975 Grateful Dead concert. Many construction companies have strict drug-free workplace rules and the Sheet Metal Workers union has long prided itself on having a membership that never works under the influence. 

But what do you do when marijuana has been recommended for your glaucoma or back pain? And what about your employer, who has to demonstrate a drug-free worksite to keep a contract?

There are a few answers in an article this month from Marci Britt, a Florida attorney who works for a firm which counts many construction companies among its clients. Britt says that with the regulatory environment in flux, employers need to make policy decisions that are right for their situations. That might not be the most helpful answer, but it’s hard to make recommendations on an issue that’s so controversial and still in legal limbo. 


Don’t forget about the small shops  

I am a HVAC contractor in business for myself with 40 years in the trade. I am what I call a “pocket contractor,” a term I use to describe small contractors with few or no employees. 

Pocket contractors grind it out every day. We do our own books, fabricate our own duct, wash our own trucks, etc. We file for Internal Revenue Service extensions more years than not, shuffle what little money we have around to pay our vendors, use deposits to make payroll.

I have received Snips magazine for years. And while I think overall the publication is well done, I think it lacks perspective from a huge sector of our trade: the pocket contractor. I have never had the time or money to attend an Air Conditioning Contractors of America or Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association convention. Neither have any of the guys I see at the supply house every day. I take pride in my sheet metal shop, where most of the 12 pieces or so I bought used and are very old but effective. There is no plasma table in my shop or most of the guys I know in the biz.

Snips would benefit greatly by connecting with more contractors like me. Our industry, and all the other trades for that matter, are comprised mostly of one- and two-man shops.

Mark Natterman
Mark’s Heating & Cooling
Ocean View, Delaware