Until recently, marijuana was illegal in the U.S., and although it’s still illegal under federal law, 29 states, plus District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, have legalized it for medicinal purposes and eight states allow it for recreational use. If marijuana usage continues to become nearly as common as - say - alcohol use, it will likely prove too costly for employers to continue testing for marijuana in the workplace.

Of course, employers have a duty to keep their workplaces safe and drug-free, but is it the right call to have an all-or-nothing approach and disregard or terminate all who test positively for THC (the chemical compound found in marijuana)? If you live in a state where marijuana is legal and a potential employee tests positive for what might be recreational use on the weekend, is a refusal to hire the best course of action? Likewise, are you sacrificing quality workers and harming your company by automatically terminating current employees who test positive? 

Certainly, if you believe a particular employee poses safety risks, it’s your obligation to intervene – especially if the job duties include operating heavy machinery or other tasks that could compromise the safety of employees. So, whether you’re devising or revising your company’s workplace policies on drugs, be sure to tailor them to fit your particular industry and workplace, and implement stricter policies if acute safety and injury risks are at stake.

But if acute safety and injury isn’t at stake, perhaps it’s time to question the worth of marijuana testing. Because, cannabis remains in a person’s system longer than other drugs, there’s a longer positive test result period. In a study analyzing the length of time bodies metabolize THC in urine tests, it ranges from five days for those who rarely use the drug to 63 days for those who use every day. There are also numerous variables involved, such as an individual’s metabolism rate, fitness level, diet, gender, and ethnicity. This creates quite a considerable gray area and effectively testing becomes a more or less Sisyphean task.

Legally, there’s nothing stopping employers from enforcing their drug policies and even if marijuana is legal in your state, they retain the right to discipline or terminate employees for drug use. In 2016, a federal district court in California decided it is lawful for Kohl’s Department Stores to discipline employees even if marijuana use is recommended by a physician, but again the issue at hand begs the question of are your current policies serving you as well as possible? Will investing the funds and manpower in testing for cannabis really improve the success and well-being of your company? 

So, what can employers do to maintain a safe, drug-free workplace consisting of dependable workers who won’t endanger themselves or others? 

  • For one, conduct a thorough interview process in order to hire the best possible employees; gage a candidate’s character based on a personal interview. 
  • Since it’s likely the trend toward increased state legalization of marijuana will continue to grow, frequently monitor your state’s legislation and adjust your policies accordingly. This will ensure you stay current with the evolving laws.
  • Consider amending your drug testing policies to only test for marijuana if you have reasonable suspicion that an employee is using or is under the influence of marijuana in the workplace. 

It’s undeniable that marijuana use has become more widespread and accepted, and the shift toward understanding this trend is a challenge for many businesses. While it’s essential to keep your workplace drug-free and comprised of responsible employees, it’s also beneficial to drive drug testing costs down in certain circumstances.