Positive Marijuana Tests In Workplace On The Rise

By McCarton Ackerman 11/17/14

The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington may have contributed to a small jump nationally in positive drug tests.

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Marijuana use and employment drug testing are leading to blurred lines in states where the drug is legal for recreational use, while positive tests for marijuana have also spiked overall across the country.

Recent figures from Quest Diagnostics show that positive tests for marijuana in employment drug screenings jumped 6.2% nationally from 2012-2013. Since marijuana was legalized for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, positive tests increased by 20% in Colorado and 23% in Washington.

"We will be very interested to see how our data evolves over the next year or two in these two states, relative to those that have not legalized so-called 'recreational' marijuana," said Barry Sample, Quest's Director of Science and Technology.

Perhaps surprisingly, positive tests for prescription painkillers declined for the second straight year. Positive tests for opiates such as heroin remained fairly steady compared to the previous year.

Quest Diagnostics also confirmed last September that marijuana was the most common drug to turn up in Quest tests, with 44% of all positive tests coming back positive for pot. Amphetamines came in second at 20.4%, followed by opiates at 9.8%, benzodiazepines at 9.3%, and cocaine at 4.6%.

The high numbers for positive marijuana tests aren’t particularly surprising since a new government report found that marijuana is the most commonly used drug in the US. Using data from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Abuse, the report showed that more than 20 million Americans over the age of 12 used marijuana in the last year. Non-medical prescription drug use was a distant second at 4.5 million users in the last year, followed by cocaine at 1.5 million.

Positive drug tests are also up overall for the first time in a decade. Out of the 7.6 million drug tests that Quest gave in 2013, 3.7% of them came back positive, a slight increase from the 3.5% of positive tests in 2012. However, these numbers remain historically low compared to the peak of 13.6% in 1988.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.