Drug Testing for Marijuana: 5 Mistakes Employers Make

Because so many states in the U.S. have legalized the use of marijuana (either for medicinal purposes, recreational purposes, or both), creating drug testing policies that include marijuana has become challenging.

After all, if so many states are legalizing weed, what's the big deal, right?

This faulty logic often leads employers to make five critical mistakes when it comes to drug testing for marijuana.    

Let's go over each mistake below.

Mistake #1: Underestimating the consequences of marijuana impairment on the job.

Marijuana has a reputation for being a "chill" drug, but it's still a drug. Reflexes are affected. So are cognitive abilities. Employees who work under the influence of marijuana pose risks to themselves, their fellow employees, and to the company's good name.

marijuana-positive[Source: The National Safety Council]

Would you want one of your employees driving the company car on company time while under the influence of marijuana? Or operating machinery? Or making important decisions? Yet we're seeing more and more companies remove marijuana from their drug testing panels. That's an incredibly short-sighted decision.

Mistake #2: Not keeping up with changes in state laws.

Pot laws at the state level are constantly changing. You need to keep up! If you have operations in more than one state, you will need to research and understand the pot laws in each state—and adjust your drug testing policies accordingly. As you likely already know, many states have conflicting laws on marijuana.

Due to the complexities, it's important to work with a screening provider that has deep expertise not only in drug testing, but also the laws governing drug testing.

Mistake #3: Failing to understand the company's obligations as an employer.

For example, employers have a duty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 to "maintain conditions or adopt practices reasonably necessary and appropriate to protect workers on the job." So if an employee is injured due to an impaired co-worker who's been smoking recreational pot on the job, your company could be held liable (learn more about negligent retention).

Or consider this: federal contractors and federal grant recipients might be mandated to follow the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988. (Remember, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.) So if your company contracts federal workers, what then?

It's probably easy to think your organization is doing everything correctly and "by the book," but unless you work with a screening provider with expertise in employment law, your organization might not be compliant.

Mistake #4: Failing to educate the workforce about cannabidiol (CBD).

First, some background. What is CBD?

• CBD oil is produced from either the marijuana plant or hemp.

• The oil is created through a process that claims to remove THC—the hallucinogenic element in marijuana that produces the high—from the product.

• The quality of CBD manufacturing varies; currently, no federally-mandated standards exist regarding the manufacturing of CBD.

• People typically use CBD for medicinal purposes, such as treatments for anxiety and arthritic pain (to name just a few).

• So far, the FDA has cleared only one CBD-based medication (for epilepsy).

• THC-positive results have been known to occur from CBD use.

One of the biggest issues surrounding CBD is the lack of integrity in the manufacturing process to
remove the THC from the product. Many manufacturers will claim that they've removed the THC from their products. But since no manufacturing standards exist, these claims can't be verified or guaranteed. So some products still contain THC—and consumers have no way of knowing which ones.

And that's another point—CBD products are readily available in drug stores, supermarkets, even your local gas stations.

We've seen cases where employees who are taking CBD for medicinal purposes will test positive for THC and marijuana. This can be a BIG problem. Think about it: if you're in a state that does not have employee protections and your policy is that you do not hire or that you fire that individual for testing positive for marijuana, you and your employee are going to be in a tough situation.

The best thing employers can do is educate employees on the risks of taking CBD. For employees who need to use CBD, encourage them to work with their physician or provider to find the best sources of CBD to ensure they're getting a high quality product where the THC has been removed.

In addition, employers should consider adding language to their drug testing policies to discourage the use of CBD oil and educate employees regarding the risks.

Mistake #5: Failing to have a comprehensive drug testing policy in the first place.

Your drug testing policy should be clear, comprehensive, and compliant, particularly when it comes to testing for marijuana. Since every state is different, and because laws are constantly changing, this is no easy feat, which is why it's essential that you and your screening provider review your drug testing policy (annually at the very least).

Remember, as more and more states legalize weed, use is likely to grow. Studies show the adverse effects marijuana use can have on the workplace, including lost productivity, decrease in safety, and lower morale (just to name a few). Simply refusing to test for marijuana because it seems like it would be "easier" is shortsighted.

Once again, working with a reputable drug testing partner like Good Egg to help you craft a comprehensive and compliant policy that addresses marijuana use is probably the smartest move you can make this year.


Scott Mogensen

Posted by Scott Mogensen

Scott Mogensen manages the Drug and Alcohol testing program. He has 11 years of experience in drug and alcohol testing and is an expert in DOT drug & alcohol compliance issues. As a Certified Substance Abuse Program Administrator (C-SAPA), he holds the highest credentials available for a program administrator.

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