State law in many parts of the country makes cannabis use for recreational or medical purposes perfectly legal. Federal law still makes cannabis use or possession a crime. But the most important thing for many Americans is: What does my employer think?
That’s becoming more of an issue around the country as more states legalize marijuana. Michigan and Illinois are the two latest states to legalize adult-use cannabis, meaning that more than 91 million Americans – about 28% of the population – live in states where recreational cannabis is legal.
Millions more live in the states, 33 in total, that have approved medical marijuana.
However, even in those states where only medical marijuana is legal, employers may still look at cannabis use very differently than they do alcohol use.
A Morality Test
Requiring people to pass a drug test has long been a part of the hiring process in the United States. At some jobs, drug tests are required at random intervals.
However, because marijuana can stay in the system for as long as 30 days after use, testing for marijuana is less of a drug test than it is “basically like a morality test,” Tamar Todd, vice-chair of the California Cannabis Advisory Committee, told CNBC.
That’s why many compare it to alcohol.
Imagine this scenario: One employee decides to have two glasses of wine after work. Another decides to use some cannabis. The next day, neither one of them are impaired for work. But one of them can get fired if they are made to take a drug test the next day (or even within the next month).
The only state to take action on this is Nevada. The state has made it illegal to reject job applicants because they tested positive for marijuana in a pre-employment drug screening. That decision transcended party politics, with Republican Gov. Steve Sisolak signing it into law this summer.
A Growing Issue
Other states have not taken this sort of action, however. Even in California, known for progressive political culture, companies can still reject job applicants or fire people for using marijuana, according to CNBC.
Todd pointed out that the ability “to sanction” employees in California for cannabis use even extends to medical marijuana patients.
Quest Diagnostics, hired by many employers to conduct drug tests, reports that THC from marijuana is the most frequently detected substance in drug tests. They also report that these numbers are on the rise, especially in states where marijuana is legal, according to CNBC.
Clearly, a time is coming soon when employers will have to formulate a new policy or risk losing some workers – a challenge for many companies in a tight job market.
While governments have taken little action, some companies have done it on their own. For example, AutoNation stopped testing employees for marijuana in 2016. The company, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is the nation’s largest car retailer with 26,000 employees nationwide.
AutoNation spokesman Marc Cannon told the Los Angeles Times, “You watch what’s going on in society. You look at recruiting, and you say, ‘We’ve got to adjust.’ A lot of great candidates were failing the test. There are people who drink and are great workers, but they don’t do it on the job. Marijuana is just like alcohol.”