Fewer Employers Screening For Marijuana Use

By Kelly Burch 04/30/19

Employers are less willing to limit their pool of qualified applicants by screening for personal marijuana use.

marijuana in the workplace
High time for a change. Kirill Vasilev | Dreamstime.com

As marijuana becomes legal in more places, fewer employers are screening potential applicants for cannabis use.

"We’ve seen that companies have to adapt with what happens with legislation within the country," Lauren Lewis, a recruiter in Buffalo, New York, told WKBW News.

According to WKBW’s report, about 21 percent of the U.S. workforce uses cannabis regularly, defined as once or twice per month. That means that employers who disqualify people who use the drug can really reduce their pool of applicants.

"You can limit yourself from a lot of potential employees by not allowing it,” Lewis said.

While employers are more likely to disregard cannabis use outside of work hours, being intoxicated on the job is still unacceptable. However, certain industries take a harder line toward any cannabis use. Federal contractors and the federal government, for example, are required to maintain a cannabis-free workplace.

Certain jobs, like those in which people are operating heavy machinery, may be more likely to care about cannabis use, Lewis said. "Because they have really need their cognitive function to perform the position,” she added.

"Really a lot of companies are really walking a thin line. There is still a lot of gray area regarding marijuana use in the workplace and drug testing for it,” Lewis said.

This is especially complicated when a person is using medical marijuana. People who use medical cannabis have argued that denying them for a job or firing them over use violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.

In New Jersey a judge recently ruled that employers cannot fire people who test positive for medical marijuana. “The sweeping effect is you can no longer say, 'You (tested) positive — you are outta here,'” Maxine Neuhauser, an employment expert, told NJ.com.

The ruling shows that the issue of cannabis use is not black and white, even though marijuana remains entirely illegal at the federal level.

“There had been a general belief that since marijuana is illegal under federal law, employers would not have to accommodate its use by employees, even if they had a prescription for it and using it legally under state law,” Neuhauser said. “This appellate case very strongly came down in the opposite direction following the lead of other states confronted with the same issue.”

Lewis said that employers are realizing they need to have a more in-depth conversation about cannabis.

"We have to make sure they are aware and start thinking about thinking a little more open mindedly,” she said.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.