Concerns about the state’s opiate crisis, the growth of the medical marijuana program and the potential legalization of recreational marijuana use are prompting state labor officials to recommend law changes to help employers maintain drug-free workplaces.

The Department of Labor is recommending that lawmakers help Maine companies deal with substance abuse issues by streamlining the approval process for employer drug-testing policies and implementing a program to train supervisors to spot drug-related impairment in the workplace. The recommendations stem from a working group convened last year to look at various issues involving substance abuse and the workplace.

“Maine’s crisis regarding opiate use and addiction underscores the importance of addressing substance abuse and use in daily life, especially in the workplace, where safety is an important concern,” said Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette.

The recommendations – presented as amendments to LD 1384, An Act to Improve Workplace Safety by Simplifying and Improving Employers’ Substance Abuse Policy Requirements – were outlined in a first-of-its-kind report that examined issues including substance use and abuse in the workplace, legalization of medical marijuana and the potential statewide legalization of recreational marijuana use.

The report will be presented to the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee on Thursday. A work session on the bill is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

Julie Rabinowitz, spokesperson for the Department of Labor, called the report groundbreaking because Maine is the first state to conduct a study of this level into the issues around employer drug testing and state law.

Based on the contributions of the work group, the Department of Labor wants to streamline the approval process for companies with substance abuse testing policies. Currently, any company that wants to have a substance abuse testing program, but is not required to do so by federal law, must submit a policy to the Bureau of Labor Standards for review and approval. Under the proposed law change, the department would develop a uniform substance abuse testing policy that employers could simply implement after notifying the department.

Rabinowitz said the number of Maine employers that drug test employees is surprisingly low. Of the state’s roughly 40,000 employers, 543 do some form of drug testing, most often for applicants applying for jobs. There are 160 employers that test existing employees for drugs. Some companies – particularly those that employ commercial truck drivers or federal contractors – are required by federal law to drug test employees.

The department also is recommending a new program that would provide training for supervisors and mangers on how to detect impairment in the workplace. That program would be open to any employer, regardless of whether it drug tests employees.

The training program would replace what is called the probable cause drug testing policies. Currently, employers with a state-approved “probable cause” drug testing policy can test employees for marijuana and a handful of other substances, but only after establishing probable cause that an employee has used drugs.

“Such changes will allow the department to focus less on administering the intricacies of the employer drug testing rules and more on helping employers and employees recognize and respond to substance impairment,” Paquette said in a statement. “The result: workplaces will be safer, more of them will be drug-free and fewer Maine workers will be injured on the job.”

The emphasis on identifying impairment stems largely from the use of medical marijuana, which can linger in the body and produce positive drug tests even if an employee is not impaired.

“Most qualified patients that use medical marijuana do so daily, which means the substance is going to stay in their bodies for long periods as research shows. These employees will consistently produce a positive test result even when they are not impaired,” the report says. “In this case, employers could lose valuable employees just because they test positive, if that is what their policy dictates.”

The bill also would eliminate the current requirement that employers share the cost of an employee’s rehabilitation that is not covered by group health insurance.

Gov. Paul LePage praised the report and described it as the first of its kind in the country.

“The findings address the need to give employers the appropriate tools to retain valuable workers while maintaining the safety of colleagues and clients,” he said in a statement. “These findings could help us bring people with a history of substance abuse issues back into the workplace, earning a living.”

Last year, Mainers spent $23.6 million on medical marijuana purchased from the state’s eight dispensaries, generating $1.29 million in sales tax for the state. The state cannot provide an exact number of patients statewide because it does not keep a registry, but doctors have printed more than 35,000 certificates required under state regulations to certify patients. That number could include duplicates and replacement certificates and is likely higher than the actual number of patients, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the medical marijuana program.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 8:28 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 to correct the number of employers that test existing employees for drugs.