Want Legalized Marijuana? Then Change Drug Testing Policies

Marijuana is becoming an increasingly more accepted drug in our society. Medical marijuana use is now permissible in over a dozen states, and consumers can legally use marijuana for recreation in Colorado and Washington. Although marijuana is a powerful, mind-altering drug, there are some benefits to its use. In states where medical marijuana is legal, doctors have prescribed it to cancer patients and victims of other serious diseases because it can help relieve some of the pain associated with these illnesses.

MarijuanaMany employers, however, have not changed their drug policies to reflect marijuana’s legalization. Even in states like Colorado, where pot was first legally used for recreation, many companies have a zero tolerance approach to marijuana use. This applies not only on the job but also after hours, as many employers require their employees to take random drug tests. Drugs like marijuana will stay in your system long after you feel the effects, meaning even if you only use marijuana occasionally and outside of work, you could still fail your drug test.

Here are some of the reasons why this could be one of the biggest barriers to marijuana legalization elsewhere in the United States.

Tests for Drugs but Not Alcohol

Although marijuana has the same legal status as alcohol in Colorado and Washington, employers definitely treat the two substances differently. Indeed, many standard employee drug tests will screen for marijuana and other drugs but not alcohol. Obviously, companies want employees to be neither drunk nor high on the job. However, the fact that some higher-ups test for one but not the other still shows they view marijuana as worse than alcohol despite its legal status in some states.

A Better Test for Drugs

The standard employee drug test doesn’t just test for whether or not employees use drugs on the job. It pretty much tests whether they use drugs period. Most drugs will stay in your system long after you feel the effects, meaning you could smoke up in the evening and the next morning trace amounts of the drug would still show up in your system. This isn’t enough to impact your performance, just enough for you to fail your drug test.

Since the whole reason for drug testing is employers do not want substances to affect employees’ performance, a better test for drugs might measure their effects. For example, employees might take a baseline cognitive test at hire and then take a quick test at the start of the day or after lunch randomly throughout the year. This would make it so that employees could still use substances on their own time — just not when it would affect their job performance. This would also test for alcohol, which many employee drug tests do not do.

Medical Marijuana

What may be especially unfair about employee drug tests is that they do not make allowances for medical marijuana, even in states where it’s legal. In some instances, this has caused employees to get fired from their jobs. Brandon Coats, a 35-year-old former employee of the Dish Network in Colorado, is one example of someone who was fired for taking medical marijuana. Mr. Coats was paralyzed in a car crash some time ago, and he takes medical marijuana off the clock to help relieve painful spasms. Mr. Coats asserts his medical marijuana use was always done after hours and never affected his job performance.

A Lawsuit Could Change Everything

Like so many things in our country, the issue of whether or not medical marijuana users can be fired will probably be decided by the court. Just like they make landmark rulings on whistleblowing and carbon emissions, the courts may also decide to what extent companies can regulate their employees’ marijuana use. Brandon Coats is currently involved in a legal battle with his former employer, Dish Network, over his termination. Mr. Coats lost his appellate but plans to take the case to the Colorado Supreme Court. A victory there would be huge for medical marijuana users everywhere.

Do you think employees with a medical marijuana card should be exempt from a marijuana drug test? If so, do you think a ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court could impact the country at large?