The Future of Workplace Drug Testing & Cannabis

Marijuana use is on the rise across the nation as more states ease legalization — according to recently disclosed new data from a popular drug testing company, Quest Diagnostics. Drug use in the workplace, in particular, has shown a remarkable resurgence, especially for marijuana positivity, which is on a 14% rise since 2014, the company reveals. What is the current status of workplace drug testing, and how does it change with the increased legalization of marijuana and the pandemic?

Drug Testing in the U.S.

What is the attitude today from employers in the USA toward drug testing? How does marijuana use impact pre-employment screening trends?

In 1988, the Drug-Free Workplace Act was signed to prevent drug use at the workplace. As of today, half of the employers still rely on the Drug-Free Workplace Act. Yet opponents to the Act specifies such a law may create a barrier for employment and doesn’t foster employees’ protection.

Today, attitude toward marijuana is slowly changing. Early 2020, a Nevada law has curbed the use of pre-employment marijuana tests — and was one of the first states to take such steps. At the exception of certain professions such as federal contractors, workers, and drivers, employers no longer need to screen candidates for marijuana use. The recent New York bill voted into existence this year no longer encourages employers to screen for marijuana, signifying more progress.

First of all, both laws may limit employee discrimination when applying to a job — and promote medical and recreational legal cannabis consumption in the states where marijuana is legalized. The current law and change toward cannabis testing in the workplace is somehow a win-win situation to protect employees. In some states such as California, Colorado, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, and Oregon, employers can still fire employees if they test positive for marijuana — even for medical use or even if they consume marijuana when off-duty.

Legalizing Recreational Use

Today, marijuana is still illegal under federal law — despite 33 states who have allowed medical use, and 11 of the states and Washington, D.C., which allow recreational use. How does the future workplace for drug testing and cannabis look like with the pandemic and such laws?

Employers tended to have a negative image of marijuana, yet, the fight should be against other drugs, according to Dr. Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostic. “While the national debate on drug misuse in the workforce has focused primarily on marijuana, increasing positivity rates for cocaine and methamphetamine are also cause for concern,” Sample states in a recent press release.

The rise of drug positivity is also linked to COVID-19, Sample adds. “There is no question that before COVID-19, rates of workplace drug positivity were trending in the wrong direction, based on our Quest Diagnostics data, The enormous strain caused by COVID-19 may prove to be an accelerant on this disturbing trend.”

The Future of Workplace Drug Testing

Amidst the pandemic and the new laws, for instance, in New York and Nevada, we can see that drug testing will evolve in the next years. It’s still important to screen for drugs as we see that positivity has increased for illegal substances. Especially during COVID-19, it’s important to alleviate testing centers and clinics currently busy with overwhelming pandemic testing.

Nowadays, urine tests for marijuana in states that have legalized marijuana could be replaced by oral fluid testing. Such alternative testings are simple and can be conducted by trained professionals eliminating the need to send employees or candidates to off-site facilities. Lastly, the federal government endorsed lab-based oral fluid drug testing in October 2019 — making it a viable and easy solution for employers.

In Summary

Drug testing is a tradition in the USA, and most employers still test for alcohol and drugs. If illegal drug testing should not be stopped, the shift for marijuana impairment testing is essential. With states showing a positive attitude toward marijuana consumption for recreational and medical use, there’s a better chance of employment for candidates, too.

The way employers decide to conduct drug testing has also changed, with marijuana consumption and positivity on the rise in the workplace. With COVID-19, employers shall rely on alternative drug testing methods and adopt new ways of collecting samples such as remote video-observed collections or telehealth collections. Either way, it remains the decision of the employers to test according to the business needs.

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