Legal Marijuana and Workplace Drug Testing

How has Marijuana Legalization Changed Workplace Drug Testing?

April 20, 2022

Ann Antonucci

How has Marijuana Legalization Changed Workplace Drug Testing?

Times are a-changin' and the standards for workplace drug testing are attempting to change with them.  The reasons companies are feeling a need to ride with the times are two-fold.

The rise of COVID-19 worldwide has led to a lot of changes for both employers and workers.  Companies turned to virtual meetings, remote work settings, reduced hours, and, unfortunately, reduced staffing.  Many employers fought to stay afloat throughout the pandemic as they dealt with fewer employees due to terminations, voluntary resignations, or high turnover.  This period is commonly referred to as the “Great Resignation”. Understanding the tighter employment market, employees were voluntarily leaving their jobs to leverage their work position seeking better pay/hours and better work/life balance.  Over the past year, as the nation strained to reach a sense of normalcy, the demand for workers increased.  Companies soon realized they were up against a revolution that started some time ago…the legalization of marijuana.  The drive to legalize marijuana had gained momentum and has already successfully established itself in some states.  Companies that had not changed their standards regarding workplace drug testing found themselves in a dilemma. 

Which states have legalized marijuana?

The legalization of marijuana rocked the country coast to coast. Currently, marijuana is legal for recreational use by adults in the following 18 states:

  • Alaska (2015)
  • Arizona (2020)
  • California (2016)
  • Colorado (2012)
  • Connecticut (2021)
  • Illinois (2019)
  • Maine (2016)
  • Massachusetts (2016)
  • Michigan (2018)
  • Montana (2020)
  • Nevada (2016)
  • New Jersey (2020)
  • New Mexico (2021)
  • New York (2021)
  • Oregon (2014)
  • Vermont (2018)
  • Virginia (2021)
  • Washington (2012)  

Medical marijuana is legal in 37 states.  State regulations legalizing the use of medical and recreational marijuana have still left users and state-sanctioned dispensaries in legal limbo, as according to federal statute the use, possession, or sale of marijuana remains prohibited.  

In 2021 legal marijuana sales were almost $15 billion and are forecasted to reach $25 billion or more in the next few years. Ever-growing sales, community demand, and increased awareness of medical and holistic uses of THC have encouraged state legislatures to work to lift the federal statute.  THC is still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency.  Schedule 1 drugs are defined as drugs that are not accepted for medical use and are highly addictive.  In comparison, heroin and LSD are also considered schedule 1 drugs.  Cocaine is considered a schedule 2 drug.  Schedule 2 drugs have a high potential for abuse leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. 

Are employers allowed to test for marijuana in states where it is legal?

Overall, the stigma of marijuana use is still prevalent due to current federal statutes. However, in those states where marijuana use is legal, either medically or recreationally, there are laws that prohibit employers from taking adverse action on a person’s employment due to marijuana use outside of the workplace. Barring the suspicion of an employee using marijuana on the job, companies are taking the marijuana component off random or pre-employment drug screening.  Urine testing is typically the primary specimen for workplace drug testing.  Urine tests can detect THC anywhere from a few days to a month or more after use but cannot differentiate between current and past use.  A marijuana saliva test can test positive for weed use for 34-48 hours from use.  Current testing methods are best suited for enforcing a zero-tolerance drug use policy, but this is a standard that is falling behind the times.  Advancements in real-time THC detection are quickly coming about with the rise in marijuana legalization, but there are currently no widely available testing methods that can accurately determine if a person is currently “high” or under the influence.

Many companies are re-evaluating workplace drug testing policies that have become a barrier in the application and recruiting process.  According to a survey by the Manpower Group in 2021, 9% of companies discontinued drug screening altogether in an effort to keep their employees or to increase their application pool.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' last report on whether companies required drug testing was in 1996 at which time about 30% of companies mandated workplace testing.  Currently, of the worksites surveyed, 16% required workplace drug testing.  In 1996 the drive was “the war on drugs” and currently it’s the legalization of marijuana.  Some of the nation’s largest employers are committed to the legalization of marijuana by lobbying Congress to legalize marijuana at the federal level.  They are also not testing specifically for marijuana at the pre-employment drug screening for jobs not regulated by the Department of Transportation.  Other companies, of course, still have valid concerns regarding job performance, potential impairment, safety, and liability issues.  As companies maneuver their way through the legalities of their own drug use policies the talent pool shortage has reached an all-time high.

Can I order a drug test that does not include marijuana (THC)?

Request A Test offers a robust selection of drug testing panels to meet a variety of needs, including tests that screen for common drugs of abuse but do not include testing for marijuana or THC.  These panels are ideal for individuals or organizations that wish to rule out illegal drug use with the exclusion of marijuana.

5 Panel Urine WITHOUT THC

5 Panel Urine and Alcohol WITHOUT THC

9 Panel Urine WITHOUT THC

10 Panel Urine WITHOUT THC

CBD/THC Ratio Urine

In addition to the options listed, we also offer a full selection of drug testing for urine, blood, hair, and saliva to meet a variety of needs.  See our Drug Testing Category page for more options.

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