Last updated: September 25, 2023
The latest Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index (DTI) Analysis shows the connection between marijuana legalization and a rise in marijuana positivity in employee drug tests. The data analyzed were taken from more than 10.6 million urine, hair, and oral fluid employee drug test results recorded between January and December 2022. Pot-smoking employees in both the general and the federally mandated safety-sensitive workforces are being weeded out.
Alarmingly, though, it’s not being brought to light until after an accident occurs. Post-accident drug testing showed the largest increase in positive marijuana results. Pre-employment testing ran a close second.
The general workforce saw an increase of 9% in pot positivity in the post-accident drug testing results during 2022 when compared to 2021 results. The figure had been steadily increasing every year since 2012 though. Overall, post-accident pot positivity increased by 204.2% during that ten-year time span.
From 2002-2009, however, post-accident marijuana positivity had been on the decline. Recreational marijuana legalization kicked off in the states of Colorado and Washington in 2012. Other states have steadily joined the ranks and it’s really no surprise that the positivity rates continue to climb.
Hazardous to health
Using marijuana impacts cognitive thinking and motor skills. According to Katie Mueller, a senior program manager at the National Safety Council, located in Itasca, Illinois, “Intoxicating cannabis products, including marijuana, can have a major impact on safety at work and have been proven to slow reaction time, impact memory and impair skills essential to driving. State legalization of the drug creates new challenges for employers.”
Another issue to consider regarding being under the influence of marijuana while at work is the fact that pot potency has increased dramatically over the past few years.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound responsible for intoxicating users, and samples seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have shown THC levels increased from 3.9% in 1995 to 14.7 percent in 2018. However, some strains of pot sold in marijuana dispensaries tout THC levels that have gone even higher. Especially true in heavily concentrated products such as those used for dabbing and vaping, in which THC levels reach levels of up to 80 percent! Both of these types of products are extremely popular with teens and young adults.
There isn’t much research that can determine the effects that THC has on the body and mind at higher levels. Growers and others who push for increasing pot’s potency should consider that fact.
Marijuana use affects people in different ways depending on the dose, duration of time used, and potency. The individual’s body composition, existing medical conditions, and whether or not there are other substances used simultaneously cause different reactions as well. Not to mention the fact, that we really have no idea how much THC is too much THC.
No one has ever died of a THC overdose. However, is “yet” a word that should be added to that line of thinking?
Should pot remain on drug tests?
It’s safe to say that the Department of Transportation (DOT) won’t be removing marijuana from the DOT drug test any time soon. That is, of course, unless the federal government legalizes the drug. The subject is bantered back and forth on the floor from time to time. So far, though, marijuana remains an illegal substance with no medical benefits at the federal level. Even so, over half of the states in the union have legalized its medical use. And we’re watching recreational legalization spreading across the country as well.
In states where pot is legal now, employers of the general workforce are generally supported by the government in keeping marijuana on the company drug test. This is despite the fact that employee drug tests don’t detect current impairment. Unfortunately, THC metabolites remain in the body for days, weeks, or even months after not using the drug. That mainly depends on the frequency of use, however, weight and other factors can play a part.
We used the word “generally” because some states, including Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and California ban employers from disciplining or firing workers for using marijuana when off-duty. New York is the only state that has completely banned marijuana testing, however, there is a carve-out left in place that allows federally or state-mandated marijuana testing for specific job positions.
The issue arising most often in regard to marijuana testing in states where it is legal to use the drug is when companies aren’t consistent with testing throughout the entire workforce. This type of lax behavior on the employer’s part can lead to claims of discrimination which could alert the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Better safe than sorry
Some employers of the general workforce are quietly removing marijuana from company drug tests. In light of the “unknowns” in regard to increased potency levels, that may not be the best decision. According to Nina French, the president of employer and law enforcement solutions at Hound Labs—a California-based company that has created a marijuana breathalyzer—quoted in Quest Diagnostics’ most recent DTI release, some companies who chose to do that saw an immediate uptick in their numbers regarding workers’ compensation claims, accidents, turnover, and absenteeism.
Employers need also be aware of the fact that should an employee cause an accident that can be related to being under the influence of marijuana—or any type of drugs—they may suffer damage to their brand. This can have devastating consequences for the company as a whole.
Preventive measures, such as employee drug testing, are a huge deterrent to drug use in the workplace. Following the drug testing protocol put in place to the letter is the best way to eliminate the possibility of finding yourself drug into court down the road due to a disgruntled former employee crying discrimination.
Moreover, employee drug testing builds a safety-focused work culture. It should include educating your employees on the dangers of drug use. That could be the catalyst that keeps some from ever using drugs at all. Others could become inspired to seek help for a substance abuse problem.
Lastly, train supervisors to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug impairment. Handling that situation meticulously if it arises is extremely important. Documenting everything that leads up to a reasonable suspicion drug test request is a key element in these instances.