Employers Backing Off From Cannabis Drug Testing

As cannabis legalization spreads across the country, businesses are desperate for willing workers and drug testing is one area where they are making concessions to fill their rosters. Cannabis employers can have drug testing and use policies just as stringent as those outside of the industry, and in any industry, when employees are found to have violated these policies, the consequences are real. In some cases, this can result in job loss, demotion, or losing out on a new job opportunity altogether. In more serious cases, when an employee tests positive for marijuana after being involved in an incident leading to injury or property damage, lawsuits often result, with outcomes that seldom favor the employee. This possibility is a major deterrent for those who choose to make marijuana or even CBD part of their health or recreation regimens. 

A point of concern for employees both current and prospective are drug testing policies involving tests that lack the sensitivity to distinguish between THC (which is federally illegal) and CBD (which is legal as long as it is derived from the hemp plant and contains less than .3% THC). Employers such as Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) are announcing pro-legalization stances and excluding marijuana from pre-employment drug tests, placing it in the same policy category as alcohol.  Positions at Amazon that are regulated by the US Department of Transportation will still be subjected to pre-employment testing, on-the-job impairment checks, and post-incident substance testing that include screening for marijuana. Amazon also reinstated the employment eligibility for former employees and applicants who were previously terminated or deferred during random or pre-employment marijuana screenings.

Relaxing drug testing policies is a growing trend, but not a new one. While Amazon may be one of the highest-profile companies to make this move recently, Las Vegas-based health care company Excellence Health, Inc. stopped drug-testing employees coming to work for the pharmaceutical side of the business back in 2018, and stopped testing for marijuana in 2016. The Denver Post ended pre-employment drug testing for all non-safety sensitive positions in 2016, and in 2018 the U.S.’s largest auto dealer, AutoNation, Inc. announced that it would no longer refuse the applications of prospective employees who tested positive for marijuana. 

Back in 2018, jobs were considerably scarcer than they are now, but employers still struggled to get many candidates past the drug screening stage as cannabis legalization spread. Jobs are now plentiful, but job seekers are more discriminating and companies large and small are struggling to recover from the massive economic hit of Covid isolation and periodic lockdowns. It’s not just drug testing policies that are acting as a deterrent to prospective and desperately needed employees. Drug testing is expensive. The expense of pre-employment screenings in states where cannabis is decriminalized or legal at the state level can be hard to justify. Where larger, multi-state employers are concerned, implementing a boilerplate policy with legalization status differing from state to state may leave them vulnerable to discrimination or wrongful termination lawsuits. 

While opinions vary about the impacts of relaxing drug testing policies as a means of addressing personnel shortages, tight budgets, and a constantly shifting regulatory environment, one thing is clear. The momentum for changing the way companies address employee marijuana use is building across industries, and the field is broadening for job seekers who wish to maintain their cannabis consumption without risking their livelihoods. 

Julie Aitcheson

Julie Aitcheson is a freelance writer, author and educator. In addition to Green Market Report, her work has appeared in Vanguard Magazine, The Fresh Toast, Green Entrepreneur, Daily Press, The Baltimore Sun, LA Weekly and The Chicago Tribune. She received a full fellowship to the 2013 Stowe StoryLabs and won second place in the 2014 San Miguel Writers' Conference nonfiction writing competition. She has published two young adult novels and is currently at work on a piece of adult fiction.

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