06.09.2016
policy

What if the Washington ‘Post’ Stopped Testing for Weed?

People could relax and find some news to report, that's what.

It’s been more than a year since the Washington Post ran a PostEverything editorial calling for an end to employee drug tests for weed as “pointless” and “a privacy violation.”

From the Washington Post editorial:

Screening for pot was never good policy for employers. Continuing to do so as medical marijuana became legal made even less sense. Now that recreational use becomes more acceptable under the law, it’s downright illogical.

Logic aside, the Washington Post continues to test its employees for marijuana usage today, according to a Gawker report, as do the New York Times, the New York Post, USA Today, and Hearst Magazines (you know, Esquire, Cosmo, Elle, etc.). A job-placement ad posted this past April for marijuana-news-and-culture site The Cannabist included one caveat: “As with every Denver Post position, a qualified candidate must successfully pass a drug test."

To be clear, the positions these media companies are seeking to fill with weed-free individuals do not entail piloting jetliners, controlling air traffic, performing delicate surgery, or safely maneuvering an Uber filled with drunks through mid-city congestion. Media companies hire people to make remarks about Hillary Clinton’s coat. Nothing about smoking marijuana should disqualify an otherwise suitable candidate from remarking on Hillary Clinton’s coat.

Furthermore, marijuana testing inherently discriminates against marijuana users, in comparison to other drugs at least. As any editor at the Cannabist could have told its Denver Post parents, evidence of past cannabis use remains detectable in a user’s blood and urine long after the so-called impairment has dissipated, up to a month, weeks longer than traces of alcohol, heroin, cocaine, or meth can be picked up.

The New York 'Times' and the Washington 'Post' would be printing blank pages if they chased all the drinkers from their newsrooms.

But, drug-testing proponents argue, the point of cannabis screening is not necessarily to catch employees or job candidates who are THC impaired right at this precise moment. The testing process is put into place to filter out individuals who are likely to ingest or inhale in the future. The reasoning is that a person who uses marijuana is a less-desirable hiree or coworker. The basis for this prejudice goes way back to a stereotype that pot smokers will play Phish in the workplace.

No business, especially not in the media sector, preemptively tests applicants for alcohol consumption. If the boozy newspaper-writer archetype is any indication, guardians of the First Amendment and a free and responsible press such as the New York Times and the Washington Post would be printing blank pages if they chased all the drinkers from their newsrooms.

Image via Flickr

Drug testing is an industry, and it is un-American to disparage any endeavor that makes money, but reporting on the state of the nation is an industry too. There was an age when the United States news business was considered among the world's best at speaking truth to power and providing unbiased, accurate, and engaging factual coverage about the crucial events and issues of the day. Currently, the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom scale ranks the United States at Position 41. For reference, that’s below Slovenia, South Africa, Lithuania, Chile, Latvia, Namibia, and a few other benighted countries that the USA has been giving lessons in democracy to for several decades now.

In a move that is certain not to improve our Reporters Without Borders ranking, the Las Vegas Review-Journal published an editorial on June 7 headlined: “Pot Legalization Is a Bad Bet for Nevada.” Previously, the Las Vegas Review-Journal consistently supported cannabis normalization. One thing that has changed at the Review-Journal along with its stance on legal weed is a new owner: Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

It’s only marijuana—it’s not a miracle truth serum. But can we really expect a free press in newsrooms where anyone using it is being excluded?

Review-Journal Publisher Craig Moon denies any editorial interference by Adelson. A steady departure of the paper’s reporters and other editorial staffers citing infringements upon editorial freedom tells a different story.

Historically, owner meddling in editorial agendas has been every bit as detrimental to an impartial flow of critical information as any government censorship. The New York Times and the Washington Post have long prided themselves on editorial independence. Still, these self-branded institutions of journalistic integrity presume to dictate their employees' marijuana options.

We live in an era of corporate imperatives turning the hard and exacting work of news-gathering into infotainment content production. The survival of a free and vital news corps is far from guaranteed.

Maybe the first thing to do is get the people doing the hiring and firing for the Fourth Estate out of their staffers’ bloodstreams. It’s only marijuana—it’s not a miracle truth serum. But can we really expect a free press in newsrooms where anyone using it is being excluded?

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