The Drug Screening Dilemma

Posted: March 22, 2022

We are frequently asked if pre-employment cannabis testing is still worth it. As more states and localities legalize and decriminalize marijuana use, employers are being faced with the question of whether to test for the substance or not.

According to a report from Quest Diagnostics, 2.7% of employee drug tests nationwide were positive for marijuana in 2020, an increase of 2.5% from 2019. According to the report, “overall, the percentage of U.S. workers testing positive for drugs was 4.4 percent, down slightly from 2019 (4.5 percent), when the rate of positive drug tests hit its highest level in 16 years.” While these are significant numbers, do they really matter to your company? A traditional hiring process often requires a clean drug test, including passing the marijuana portion but regulations and attitudes around cannabis use are quickly changing.

This leads us back to the original question: Is pre-employment cannabis testing still worth it? We’ve mapped out the pros and cons for you.

Here are a few reasons to continue testing for marijuana:

  • Marijuana is still illegal under federal laws.
  • If cannabis is removed from drug testing panels, a company is at a higher risk of possible injuries.
  • Not testing for marijuana makes a company more vulnerable to negligent hiring and lawsuits.
  • It may be necessary to conduct marijuana testing for certain positions (i.e., warehousing and transportation) when physical safety is a critical factor.

Here are a few reasons to stop testing for marijuana:

  • Marijuana testing can be a huge barrier in the hiring process. With employers dealing with a 15-year high labor shortage, many are considering eliminating marijuana drug tests to expand their applicant pool since a significant percentage of job applicants test positive for cannabis.
  • There are laws against discriminating against recreational cannabis users in different states and cities. For example, New York and New Jersey have laws against discriminating against employees for off duty marijuana use and employers can face heavy consequences for violating them. The Illinois House of Representatives has also approved a proposal that would prohibit employers from firing employees with trace amount of marijuana in their systems.
  • There is always the possibility of being sued for terminating an employee for a drug test that is positive for marijuana.
  • Attitudes towards marijuana use have changed in recent years as the focus on personal freedom and privacy has helped drive legalization.
  • Workplace drug testing has been accused of disrupting the supply chain.

The Answer?

Back to the original question: is pre-employment testing for cannabis still worth it? Unfortunately, there is not a clear-cut answer, and every company needs to analyze their own situation. While pre-employment marijuana testing was once a necessary step in the hiring process, it is an evolving issue that may no longer be suitable for your company. The answer will depend on things including drug testing regulations in your state and municipality, along with laws that require drug testing for certain jobs.

Conducting Compliant Marijuana Testing

If your company decides to proceed with marijuana testing here are a few pieces of advice:

  • It is a great time to review your company’s existing drug and alcohol testing policies and adjust them as needed. If cannabis testing is needed for a safety-sensitive position, then it is necessary to create a policy that addresses the specific reasons why.
  • Consider implementing a “business need” policy that requires pre-employment marijuana testing based on need.
  • Be sure to keep up on legal developments in states and municipalities in which your company recruits or employs workers.
  • Work with your company’s legal or compliance department to ensure that your company’s drug testing policies adhere to cannabis laws and other areas of employment law.
  • Partner with a drug screening company that understands the ins and outs of marijuana testing

For information on pre-employment drug testing, please contact us at (877) 360-4636. We are here to help with all your drug testing and compliance needs.