When it comes to an election year, we usually think in terms of red and blue (or, in 2016, in terms of comb overs and pantsuits). But, with so much marijuana legalization on the dockets across the nation, this election might be more about the green than anything.
Nine states in the US are expected to vote on weed initiatives. Some (such as California and Nevada) are voting on whether or not to legalize its recreational use, while others (in what is soooo 2005) are voting on medicinal measures.
Whether the ballots pass this round or the next (or the round after that), one thing’s for sure: the times they are a changing.
As more and more states decriminalize the use of pot, businesses find themselves in a bit of a hazy situation. Marijuana, even when it’s legalized on a state level, is still viewed as illegal by the Federal Government. So, what’s a business to do? Abide by their local laws or let the G-men call the shots?
Drug Screenings in the Business World
Not all companies care about what you do when you’re outside your cubicle: according to the Washington Post, companies drug test less and less for one reason – it does very little to improve workplace safety.
Drug testing initially took off in 1986 when President Reagan brought his wife’s Just Say No campaign one step further and required federal employees to just say yes to peeing in a cup.
A year later, around 21 percent of businesses tested their employees for drug use. In 1996, that number skyrocketed to 81 percent. Since then, however, it’s steadily declined: in 2004, only about 62 percent of companies engaged.
Though no one’s certain the numbers of today, the best guess is around 40 percent of people are routinely tested on the job. Some companies are required to test, while others simply make the choice to. Usually jobs that involve heavy machinery and the like will test: operating a bulldozer while high is much more dangerous than a data entry doobie.
Drug Screenings in the Legal World
The legality of marijuana is commonplace in certain areas (and sure to be in many more, at least eventually). This confuses some business owners, leaving them to wonder what’s required of them.
In some states – Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, and Pennsylvania – recreational marijuana remains illegal. Still, their laws take medicinal use into consideration. Per Business News Daily, employers in these jurisdictions can’t fire someone for testing positive for cannabis (assuming they have a medical marijuana card). But if an employee shows up high, that’s another story.
In Colorado, where recreational marijuana is allowed, nothing protects workers from termination. Amendment 64, which legalized the use of cannabis, specifically addressed this, giving companies the power to enact a zero tolerance policy. The courts have backed businesses, even when they’ve fired their employees for marijuana use outside of working hours.
Many people are against testing, believing that the choice to light a joint is the same as the choice to crack open a beer – as long as Nancy the Time Life Operator isn’t doing it while she’s on the clock, it’s no one’s concern but her own. Others argue that THC is different than alcohol because of its tendency to remain in the system for long periods. Of course, pot-proponents counter this, arguing that a drug in one’s system doesn’t translate to impairment. If it did, people who smoked marijuana on a Friday night would still be high a month later.
Some Colorado companies have jumped upon the cannabis bandwagon, fairly believing what their employees do on their own time has no bearing on what they do at the office.
Other companies haven’t taken a seat – either out of government obligation or stubbornness.
Many federal workers in the Centennial State are still tested for drug-use, as are people in industries where sound minds are of particular importance, such as the building industry. Employees who work with their hands find this policy especially handcuffing -anyone from Colorado will tell you that there are only three seasons: winter, winter, and construction; it limits their career possibilities. Opposing stances view it as necessary. Some businesses have gone so far as to look past the Rocky Mountains, actively searching for workers from states where marijuana is not yet recreationally available.
The Future of Drug Tests
What the future holds for drug screening isn’t yet clear. A lot depends on how widespread legalization becomes: it’ll be harder for drug testers to hold their stance when recreational cannabis is legal everywhere, instead of only a handful of states. Still, there are other things to consider.
Safety-intensive jobs will likely have stricter policies than jobs that involve computer and office work. It makes sense for employers to err on the side of caution in industries where injuries are common.
But, safety-intensive or not, businesses will need to be clear cut in their policies, particularly in differentiating between medicinal and recreational use.
One summons the Americans Against Disabilities act and one does not.
Education is another thing to consider. People who view cannabis as evil or claim its propensity for overdose; people who swear anyone puffing a toke will be shooting heroin this time next week; people who believe it ruins lives and destroys health – they may benefit from taking the time to learn about it. The science, the research, the statistics. Maybe then they’ll find that the thing they’re afraid of isn’t really scary at all.
Ultimately, in regular, everyday occupations, it’s fair to assume that drug testing will ease as state laws change. It’s also fair to assume that federal law will change as well. If every state in the union, or even the majority, passes legislation legalizing recreational cannabis, it’s hard to picture Uncle Sam slouch-shouldered, pouting in the corner. Rather, he’ll have no choice but to join the party.