Drug Testing & Marijuana Legalization

Posted by Vaughn Pourchot on 3/19/19 10:00 AM
Vaughn Pourchot
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It has long been a common understanding among career-driven individuals that if you intend on building a career, then you’re going to have to pass a drug test or two along the way.

Drug testing has been a part of the recruitment and hiring process for quite some time. However, in the recent decade, this business policy staple has been thrown a curveball with the introduction of legalized medical, and even recreational, marijuana use. There are a lot of opinions surrounding how businesses should treat this issue in the workplace and in some instances it has left businesses with more questions than answers. If a business doesn’t regulate alcohol use can it justify regulating marijuana use in states where it's legal recreationally? Is it discrimination to not hire someone who fails a drug test even though they have a valid medical reason for its use?  

Business Culture Evolves

War on drugs, drug testing in the workplaceSo how did drug testing become a common practice in the first place?  Drug tests were initiated in the US military in 1971 after the Vietnam War. Soon thereafter, in the mid-1980s, businesses began drug testing and the Drug-Free Workplace Act was passed in 1988. This required that Federal contractors and Federal grantees provide a drug-free workplace in order to obtain a contract or grant. This piece of legislation set the bar for every business that aspired to score one of those highly coveted government contracts. In order to set their business up for success, many companies implemented a drug testing policy to keep themselves in the running for government contracts as well as reduce other potential liabilities. According to SHRM, half of U.S. employers drug test their employees.

HR Nightmare

Workplace drug testing can be a nightmare for HRHow is a business with an employment drug testing policy supposed to handle the growing legalization of marijuana?  Well, most businesses are still trying to figure that out. Despite individual state's decriminalization and even legalization, it is still illegal at a federal level and that trumps all. So even if you live in a state where recreational use is legal, if you maintain a government contract your employees will have to continue abstaining from medical and recreational marijuana use. You may be wondering, but doesn’t the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) prohibit discrimination based upon a medical condition? Yes, but illegal drugs (marijuana is considered an illegal substance federally) are excluded from this piece of legislation. 

CO Supreme Court Sides with Employer

Court rules in favor of employer for failed drug testIn 2010 Dish Network fired an employee, when a random drug test revealed he had used marijuana at some point. Dish Network has a zero-tolerance drug policy, even at its locations in Colorado where this incident took place. What made this such a high profile case is that the employee, who is quadriplegic due to a car accident, uses prescribed medical marijuana when he’s off-duty to control his leg spasms. Despite his seemingly legitimate reasoning, his firing was upheld in trial court, CO Court of Appeals and then finally the CO Supreme Court. This established a legal precedent that employers could legally enforce a drug policy despite how a state views the drug in question. This ruling might not seem fair but we have to take into account that businesses are subject to many regulations that must be implemented on a company-wide level. If there’s a contract in place, like a federal contract, that requires a drug-free work environment, then that company must honor that requirement or risk losing the contract. It can’t pick and choose where, geographically speaking, to honor that agreement.

Marijuana Legalization in Canada

It will be very interesting to see how federal policies evolve now that Canada has legalized marijuana. With the growing number of US states that continue to legalize marijuana, one can’t help but wonder if the U.S. will soon follow in its neighbor to the north's footsteps. However, the general consensus is that this is still a long ways away from happening despite how many states defy federal law. In the meantime, expect many more court cases and clever ways to circumvent employment drug testing regulations.

Topics: Business, In the News

About the Author: Vaughn Pourchot

Vaughn is the CEO of VTR second, and a loving husband/father first. He took control of VTR in 2016 when he saw a platform and associated content that was not being utilized to it’s full potential. He has always had a passion for learning and wanted to provide the masses a low cost means to study the building blocks of running a business. VTR was born from this passion. Seeing that only MBA programs offered the knowledge that everyone deserves to know, he took an online MBA program and put a team in place that could scale down the courses in to bite-size chunks that everyone could afford to pursue. Thanks to a dedicated team VTR continues to grow and hopes to one day be the go to for Continuing Education needs.