Death to Snitches: Can Legal Weed Kill the Workplace Drug Test?

One industry really doesn't want workplace drug testing to end.

Do you know what industry will suffer the most as more states legalize cannabis for both recreational and medicinal use? Why, that would be the workplace drug testing industry, of course.

Marijuana is the golden amigo of workplace drug testing. According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, marijuana use accounts for more failed workplace drug tests than any other substance. (Yes, we’re talking to you, crack cocaine.) Here’s the scary new future for the workplace-drug-testing entrepreneur: The relaxing trend in new cannabis laws being passed may decrease and/or eliminate the need for Kafkaesque workplace drug testing, although it hasn’t done so yet.

This past June in Colorado, where both medical and recreational marijuana consumption are legal, the state Supreme Court ruled that employers have the right to fire workers who test positive for cannabis, even if the weed is legally prescribed medical marijuana and consumed while off duty.

Although their livelihood is secure for the time being (in 2014, Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest labs in country, conducted drug testing on 9.1 million urine samples), owners of companies that conduct workplace drug testing are primary opponents to legalizing marijuana. These companies make money off of outing workers who use cannabis. They have the most to lose if marijuana becomes as socially acceptable as Coors.

Drug testing is crazy expensive and often not effective. Peace of Mind Drug Testing Services, a third-party company, for example, starts its pricing at $53 per 5-panel drug test and $75 for a 10-panel drug test. A 5-panel urine test claims to detect use of marijuana, opiates, cocaine, amphetamines, and phencyclidine. The deluxe 10-panel option sniffs out all those drugs plus prescription barbiturates, methadone, methaqualone, propoxyphene, and benzodiazepines.

“If you have a drug-free workplace, it doesn’t matter if they are in an area where it’s legal or not legal."

The defenders of drug testing— consisting of diagnostic labs and third-party companies —have organized against any cannabis legislation that will change workplace policies. The ideology they push is that even though a substance is legal, employees who use marijuana are more apt to miss work, cause accidents, and change jobs more frequently than those who don’t use marijuana, which costs employers money.

Wanting to get the complete lowdown on drug testing, I called Peace of Mind Drug Testing Services.

“What is the policy now with medical marijuana?” I asked the representative.

“It’s up to your company whether or not you accept medical marijuana cards. But as far as our company, we don’t accept that,” stated the Peace of Mind rep. He explained that Peace of Mind doesn’t consider medical marijuana as a true prescription.” On your end, you have to determine if you’re going to accept something like that, but on our end it’s not a true prescription. It’s just a medical recommendation. It will still come back positive.”

The representative then told me that location is not a factor regarding the use of marijuana by employees: “If you have a drug-free workplace, it doesn’t matter if they are in an area where it’s legal or not legal. If you have a drug free workplace policy, then [employees] can’t do drugs,” he stated. “If you say marijuana is part of that policy, then they have to go by that policy.”

The Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) website still lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug—just like the U.S. government does, placing weed alongside heroin, LSD, and mescaline; deeming it an illegal substance with no medical benefits.

The DATIA advises: “If you want to maintain a safe and drug-free workplace, test for those drugs outlawed under federal regulations.” The site offers a propaganda-laced pamphlet for businesses that want to defend their drug-testing programs, depicting marijuana as an addictive gateway drug.

To avoid lawsuits, the United States Department of Labor will advise employers on how to tailor a comprehensive drug-free workplace policy. For legal reasons, most drug testing companies require that a state-law compliant policy be in place before they will work with employers.

Image via Jim Watson

Once the drug-free workplace policy is in place, employers have established the right to do random drugs tests on the spot. On any particular day, the boss can exact a cup of pee on demand because it’s written into workplace policy.

Cannabis stays in the body longer than any other classified drug. Traces can show up in a urine test weeks or months after use. Harder drugs such as cocaine or meth can pass through in as little as one to three days. Basically, an employee can go on a coke/meth binge five days before a drug test and pass; someone who’s smoked a joint a few weeks ago may well fail.

A person prescribed cannabis for an injury can be fired if they test positive for THC—even in states where it’s legal. Sounds ridiculous? Brandon Coats, a Colorado-based quadriplegic employee of the Dish Network, was fired when he tested positive for the medical marijuana he was prescribed in 2010; despite the fact that Colorado has allowed cannabis for medical purposes since 2000.

Conversely, some companies that ban medical marijuana will allow doctor prescribed Oxycontin a/k/a Hillbilly Heroin.

Obviously, people with certain jobs should not smoke marijuana while on duty; in the same way that airline pilots shouldn’t chug Jack Daniels on lunch break. Pennsylvania, though, is now considering a medical marijuana bill that would prohibit employers from firing workers who use doctor prescribed medical marijuana during off work hours.

Suddenly, I felt a little creepy. I’d just given a representative from a workplace drug testing company a cold case of the ethics.

Becoming more Orwellian, with the representative from Peace of Mind Drug Testing Services, I asked: “Is there any way to test the employees without them knowing at all?”

“I’m not really following you,” he replied.

I repeated the question, slowly: “Is there a way to test them without them knowing at all?”

(Pause.) “How would you do that?” He sounded baffled. “Are you going to sneak into the bathroom and take their pee out?”

I pressed: “Is there a way to test them other than urine?”

More confusion: “Again, how are you going to do that without them knowing they’re being tested? You’re going to get yourself in trouble if you even try to do something like that, sir.”

He added: “Sneak around without them knowing about it? I’ve never heard of anyone doing that.”

Suddenly, I felt a little creepy. I’d just given a representative from a workplace drug testing company a cold case of the ethics.