One of the unanswered questions after Colorado voters agreed to legalize recreational marijuana back in 2012 was how companies looking to locate jobs here would respond.
The answer back then — and now — remains “it depends,” according to a panel of nine corporate relocation experts who spoke in Denver on Thursday at the Metro Denver Site Selection Conference hosted by the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.
Most executives will continue to look at bottom-line metrics first and foremost. But some companies may stay away if legalization results in higher crime rates and a spaced-out workforce.
“It is hard to say no to something because of this issue,” said Peter Waldinger, with Austin Consulting in Cleveland, who noted that marijuana remains illegal on the federal level.
Companies still have the right to ban drug use by employees and to ensure compliance, panelists said. Others added it is only a matter of time, maybe a decade or two, before every state legalizes marijuana.
“We haven’t seen it be an issue. Most companies will drug test,” said Tom Matter with engineering firm CH2MHill.
But others said executives, especially those with a more conservative outlook, are concerned Colorado is moving in the wrong direction and will stay away.
“I think it is a terrible thing,” said Joe Vranich with Spectrum Location Solutions, an Irvine, Calif., adviser to mid-size and family run businesses.
Colorado once was perceived as a “wholesome” place, at least compared to California, and that is no longer the case, he said.
“It was shocking news to us in Japan,” said Shinobu Yoshitomi, managing director with Colorado Frontiers Consulting and a Japanese native.
She said concerns there center on whether legalization will reduce worker productivity and lift crimes rates. And as Colorado works through its social experiment, people elsewhere are watching to see if a larger share of the population starts consuming.
The panelists disagreed on how state economic development officials should respond, with some saying it is better they address the issue head on rather than ignore it.
“It comes down to perception,” said Spencer Schobert with Deloitte Consulting in San Francisco. The more officials in Colorado can communicate actual impacts rather than the perceived ones, the more concerns will be eased, he said.
But Ken Machemehl, business development director with ADP in Atlanta, said the heavy media attention isn’t helping Colorado. The sooner the furor fades, the better for the state.
“It is a negative on every project — short-term,” he said. “Get it out of the news. It is a non-issue.”