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Are workplace drug-testing norms in sync with legalized marijuana environment?

The medical legalization of marijuana in 28 states and Washington D.C. and recreational use in eight of these has resulted in a dilemma for the workforce in those states as well as their employers. In states such as California and Colorado, where cannabis consumption is legal, employees can be fired or not be considered for a job if traces of cannabis are found in commonly used diagnostic tests used by employers as part of their drug-free workplace policy.

What makes this situation unique is that employees can be fired (or not hired) for legally consuming marijuana in their private time if they are tested positive. In California, even medical use of marijuana does not offer protection from this discrimination. The issue lies in the way marijuana’s effects last in the body as well as the limitations of drug testing technology. Unlike alcohol or drugs such as methamphetamine which usually pass out of the body within a day, traces of cannabis can show up in common diagnostic tests long after its psychoactive effects have faded. There is no way to ascertain if workers have consumed cannabis on the job, or if it is the effect of past usage which could be days, weeks or even months old.

Current framework of state laws favors employers

Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012. In spite of this, employees have faced termination or rejection of employment based on positive drug tests for marijuana. This is due to the fact that Colorado’s constitution specifies that employers do not need to accommodate marijuana use for medical purposes making it difficult for employees to contest terminations or rejections. Washington laws are along similar lines, whereby it is not mandatory for employers to accommodate employees’ marijuana use for medical reasons if it assists in maintaining a drug-free workplace.

In California, Proposition 64 legalized recreational use of marijuana. However, the same law also gives freedom to employers to test employees or potential employees for marijuana. If workers are found to have consumed the drug, employers are at liberty to dismiss them or not hire them, as the case may be, even if there is no evidence to show that employees were under the influence of marijuana at work. This increases the risk of limiting the talented pool of resources and inviting criticism for being an unfriendly organization.

At the heart of the problem is the fact that marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law. Accordingly, states are unlikely to be held accountable for not accommodating medical and/or recreational marijuana use in their drug testing policies till such time as updated laws come into force.

Legal reforms and raising awareness among employers will result in big gains

States such as Oregon and Washington are taking steps to rectify the inconsistency between marijuana legalization and workplace drug testing policies. Oregon has introduced legislation which makes it illegal for employers to penalize employees for consuming lawful substances like marijuana in the past. Oregon’s law will apply to all employees other than those who need to undergo drug tests under federal laws, whereas Washington’s proposed law will be applicable to employees using marijuana for medical purposes.

State chapters of advocacy groups such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have united to create workplace drug testing coalition. Besides emphasizing legal reforms, the coalition is working to raise awareness among businesses to do away with traditional drug tests using urine samples and adopt performance-based impairment tests instead. In California, enactment of Proposition 64 is prompting businesses to review their marijuana testing policies. In fact, many businesses have dropped marijuana from pre-employment tests. Such a move is also being influenced by the realization that barring everyone who tests positive for marijuana will leave employers with limited options for hiring workers.

Recovery road map

A seemingly innocuous recreational activity can turn into an addiction within a short span of time. If you or someone you know is battling drug addiction, it is advisable to seek medical help immediately. The experts at 24/7 Recovery Helpline can help you in locating the best drug addiction treatment centers near you. You can call at our 24/7 helpline number 855-980-5757 or chat online to get details about the finest treatment centers for drug addiction offering comprehensive programs to aid recovery and control withdrawal symptoms.

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