The nation’s employers have a problem, according to a new report in the New York Times—they can’t find enough workers who are capable of passing a drug test. Fortunately, for some of these companies, this is a problem with a very simple solution: Stop drug-testing your workers.
Hardly anyone tests their employees for alcohol, because we understand that adults are capable of making their own decisions outside of the workplace, and because drinking a few beers on Saturday night doesn’t make you magically drunk again on Monday morning. We understand that you can drink when you’re not at work and still be perfectly competent when you arrive at the workplace. We should treat weed—“employers’ main gripe” when it comes to drug-testing, per the Times—the same way. (There’s also a technical hurdle: alcohol doesn’t stay in your body long-term like weed does, so it would be hard to find beer in your bloodstream even if employers were looking for it.)
Since the Reagan Administration, companies with federal contracts have been required by law to drug test employees, and workers with jobs deemed “safety sensitive” by the U.S. Department of Transportation are subject to testing as well. Now that cannabis is legal in either recreational or medicinal form in almost half the U.S. states, it is clear that these laws need amending, at least where weed is concerned. In the meantime, there are plenty of employers that aren’t bound by either of these federal laws and choose to test employees anyway, either because their states provide insurance breaks to “drug-free workplaces” or because of their own puritanical views. They should stop doing that. Lots of smart, talented, and hardworking people enjoy the occasional toke.
Of course, workers who operate vehicles and other heavy equipment for a living shouldn’t be drunk or high on the job. The DOT handles this by subjecting commercial drivers to random breathalyzer tests while they’re working. That last part is crucial. If an employee is directed to take an alcohol test while he’s off-duty, federal law considers that test “improper” and bars employers from using it against him. But if he takes a drug test off-duty, the results are perfectly valid under the law.
As of now, there’s no reliable breathalyzer-style spot-check test to see if someone is currently stoned, but the lack of adequate testing technology shouldn’t make smokers unemployable any more than it should make them ineligible for an ordinary driver’s license. Cops in Colorado still aren’t sure how to test for “high driving,” but that hasn’t posed a huge problem so far: Highway fatalities in the state hit historic lows after it legalized pot.
The idea that employers could strengthen their workforces by allowing smokers isn’t some crackpot theory cooked up by a pothead blogger. Back in 2014, FBI James Comey spoke at a conference about how the bureau could hire the best and brightest young minds to bolster its cyber crime and security divisions. One solution he proposed: loosen their drug-testing policies. When an attendee asked Comey for advice about a friend who’d shied away from pursuing a job at the bureau for fear of testing positive, the director’s answer was simple: “He should go ahead and apply.”