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Legal or Not, a Majority of Employers Say They’ll Continue to Test For Marijuana

By K. G. Trout

In case you think that marijuana legalization will eventually lead to employers accepting its use by employees, think again.

A recent survey of more than 500 managers, executives, and other employees representing U.S. employers, done by EmployeeScreenIQ, an Ohio company that performs employment background screening services for employers found that:

  • More than half of employers — 54 percent — said they would continue with drug testing programs even if recreational (adult use) marijuana were legal.
  • Only 2 percent said they would discontinue testing if legalization were to kick in. (Other responses included “don’t know,” or employers said they didn’t have a drug-testing program.)

“Just because it is legal, doesn’t mean an employers has to accept it,” said Jason Morris, president and chief operating officer of EmployeeScreenIQ, told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “You are going to see a lot of companies test on site to see if people have smoked that day.”

In other words, employers think they will handle marijuana use much like they do alcohol use; if it comes up in an on-the-job test you’ll probably lose your job.

The problem with that kind of thinking is twofold:

  • Many employees may have a medical condition that they are treating with medical marijuana — like the Massachusetts woman who lost a new job even though she’d disclosed during her interview that she takes medical marijuana, with a doctor’s legal permission, to ease the symptoms of a digestive disorder. As far as I know, there aren’t any medical conditions employees are treating with alcohol.
  • Traces of marijuana remain in a person’s system long after they have used it. While alcohol use is pretty much undetectable after 8-12 hours, marijuana use stays with you. That means that a Colorado resident who legally ingested some marijuana on a Friday night after work could have it still show up in a on-the-job drug test on Monday morning.

This is something that needs to be worked out, but even in places were state government’s have tried to add safeguards for workers who are legally allowed to use medical marijuana, they have workplace issues.

Matthew Fogelman, an attorney who works for a law firm that handles discrimination lawsuits, told the Boston Globe that Massachusetts’ 2012 medical marijuana law prohibits employers from firing workers who have legally obtained a doctor’s certification to use marijuana for health reasons.

“As long as it is not affecting that person’s ability to perform their job, then it should be protected, and that person should not suffer adverse consequences,” Fogelman said.

Yes, that’s the key. As long as there is no adverse impact on your work, employees who legally use medical marijuana should not have to face losing their job over a random drug test.

This is an issue that’s not going to go away anytime soon, but a lifting of the federal prohibitions on marijuana would go a long way towards solving the problem.

Stay tuned.


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