In states where recreational and medicinal marijuana are legalized, drug testing for employment continues to test state laws. How does testing affect employees and job searchers who use marijuana outside of work, whether medically prescribed or not, and how can they best prepare themselves for employers?
Legalization Doesn’t Mean Users are in the Clear
While four states have legalized recreational marijuana use, there is still a long way to go in social and workplace acceptance of the drug. Drug testing has taken place for many years, and has continued even with the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado, California, Washington, and Oregon. These states, like others, have employers that continue to perform drug tests on potential and current employees, regardless of state laws. Since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, employers have the choice as to whether or not they want to drug test, and then hire or deny employees based on the results.
A Timeless Taboo?
While significant progress has been made, it seems like the taboo of using marijuana will almost never fully disappear. Hopefully public perception of users will evolve into more realistic and reasonable ones in the near future. There remains a prevalent assumption that marijuana use results in workers who are lazy, less productive, or unreliable. While this can be true of any person using a drug, including alcohol, such statements have only been targeted at marijuana users. A 2014 Forbes article (https://www.forbes.com/sites/groupthink/2014/09/30/how-marijuana-legislation-will-affect-drug-testing-in-the-workplace/#3b11d2d11655) went in on marijuana users stating that they “are more likely to become sick or injured, are less productive, can be more distracting to co-workers, have increased absenteeism, and can be a danger to themselves or others.”
Articles like this and biased views in popular publications are certainly maintaining the contradictory view that marijuana is taboo. People using alcohol, whether in moderation or not, are not required to prove their sobriety during or outside of work hours. The double standard still exists despite recent improvements in legislation, making it difficult for users of marijuana to attain employment, respect, and to be viewed as productive members of society.
A person can consume alcohol in large amounts and still arrive to work the next day, the effects of the alcohol still impairing his or her performance. For this to be accepted and even promoted in society through television ads and segments on newscasts, the effects of marijuana should be treated similarly. This does not necessarily mean to promote marijuana use on television and in other media, but to simply hold users of any legal drug to the same standards.
Medicinal marijuana may seem like a safe bet since it is typically prescribed legally and by a doctor for the purpose of making a person more comfortable and able to function in society. However, there have been instances of persons fired after failing a drug test for taking medical marijuana that was legally prescribed to them. This leaves many people at a severe disadvantage that may have been using prescription marijuana for years or have just begun using it to alleviate symptoms of serious disease and illness.
Not only are they losing their jobs or being prevented from getting hired, but they may also need to reconsider their prescription use in order to find similar employment again. Many people choose to take their case to court since they feel they need the drug in order to function. Unfortunately, companies can argue that under federal law, marijuana is still an illegal drug, and they have the right to keep a drug-free workplace. While this is true, there is clearly more work that needs to be done in order to properly protect medicinal users, as well as recreational users abiding by state laws.
Federal Level Has Final Say
Drug testing is neither required nor prohibited by federal law, leaving the decision up to state employers. While federal testing requirements must be adhered to, the decision to test is left to employers. Because of this, it is legal for companies to deny employment based on a positive drug test. This presents a challenge for both recreational and medicinal users. A study by the Mountain States Employers Council representing 3,500 employers showed that after the 2012 legalization in Colorado, companies either left their drug testing policies in place or imposed even more rigid rules and policies.
Testing for drug use is common for many positions of employment including those involving operating machinery such as transportation, aviation, or working with children. While the implications of testing for use while on the job are reasonable and necessary in some instances, drug use outside of the workplace does not imply that an employee will be using while on the clock. Unfortunately, drug testing has no way of determining when and where the use of a drug took place, leaving employers to exclude all users in order to keep a drug free workplace. What this leads to is the question of importance in keeping a drug free workplace in states where use is legalized. It seems like only more time and additional legislation will bring a solution to the combating points of view held by workplaces and citizens.
Clashing Laws Cause Confusion
State and federal laws clashing makes it increasingly confusing, difficult, and frustrating for users who are partaking in an activity deemed legal by their states. More effective guidelines and laws need to be put into place at a federal level in order to ensure that medicinal users and users who are legally engaging in drug use under state laws are no longer penalized in the workplace. Potential employees should know their state and federal laws, as well as what a possible employer is expecting of them before and during employment. Job searchers may need to take into careful consideration whether or not a job will be jeopardized by drug use, and whether or not it is worth the risk. Staying informed is the best way to be prepared when laws and guidelines cross paths and are sometimes contradictory. This will ensure that employees choose a job that is a good fit for them and their lifestyle, and that will keep them in the clear when it comes to drug testing and any possible consequences.