Marijuana and Employment: Positive Workplace Drug Tests on the Increase

employee upset after failed drug test

For the first time since 2003, workplace drug tests took a jump. This is according to Quest Diagnostics, a company performing workplace drug tests across the country. In all, more than eight million workplace drug tests contributed to the most recent Quest Diagnostics database.

Their results showed that in 2012, the rate of positive tests was 3.5% of all workplace tests. In 2013, that rate rose to 3.7%. That constituted a 6.7% increase.

While that may not seem to be an extraordinary increase, consider this: In Colorado, the first year that recreational use of marijuana was legalized, the rate increased 20%.

And in Washington State, which also legalized the recreational use of marijuana, the rate increased 23%.

Some companies choose to hire drug-free employees and others must hire drug-free employees due to security issues, government contracts or highly sensitive job duties.

Complicating matters is the fact that THC, the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana, can stay in the body in measurable amounts far longer than other drugs. A person can test positive for marijuana for days after using the drug on the weekend, making it difficult to pass an employment drug test.

As pointed out in an April 2014 article in USA Today, federal laws still prohibit marijuana use and much of employment rights law is federal. Lawsuits are springing up from employees who have been fired due to their drug use.

As more states legalize medical use of marijuana and should more states approve the recreational use of this drug, then we run the risk of having an increasing number of people affected by marijuana on the job. It’s understandable that employees would be concerned. In some jobs, the effects of the drug may not be critical but in others—construction, healthcare or transportation, for example—marijuana use may make the difference between safety and injury. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration lists the changes that marijuana use makes in a person, including:

  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty thinking clearly and solving problems
  • Problems focusing
  • Difficulty shifting attention as demanded by changes in the environment
  • Registering important changes
  • Impairment of eye-hand coordination

These changes have the potential to make accuracy difficult on jobs that require delicate actions or fast perceptions.

Modifications in laws and experience will set precedents for both businesses and employees until new practices are in place.

In the meantime, Narconon centers across the country will continue helping any addicted person recover their sobriety. In many centers, staff and volunteers visit schools and youth clubs in their areas to provide drug prevention classes to keep teens and young adults drug-free.



Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.