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Workforce Implications for Changes in Marijuana Testing

In his remarks at the 2015 State of the Region Conference, John Molinaro, president and CEO of the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth, introduced the topic of workplace marijuana testing as a consideration for keeping qualified workers on the job. His excerpted comments follow.

Many of the tests commonly used for drugs (other than alcohol) measure historical use, not present intoxication.  This means they test as much or more for whether a worker is complying with broader cultural or moral standards than whether the worker represents a safety hazard to the company and coworkers.  This may have been acceptable at a time when we had significantly more workers than jobs, but as workforce supplies become more constrained we must rethink this norm.

Testing for past exposure is especially true for marijuana use.  Commonly used tests for marijuana use have a look-back period of 30 days to six months.  The most sensitive tests can give a false positive if a worker was exposed to second-hand smoke.

Marijuana legalization in various places around the country compounds the problem.  As more and more workers see other states approving marijuana use, use in states where it remains illegal will inevitably increase.  This will compound the already difficult task of finding qualified workers.

I am not here today as an advocate of marijuana legalization, and I am a strong advocate for safe workplaces.  That said, testing for past exposure versus present intoxication significantly limits the workforce available to employers.  When it weeds out workers that are not intoxicated there are no net gains in workplace safety and there are significant economic losses to our employers and society as a whole.

A whole new class of drug tests is becoming available that can measure current intoxication rather than past use.  If we are going to continue to meet our workforce needs in an era of worker scarcity, our society, our insurers and our employers must change rules, regulations and practices to focus on safety and intoxication rather than moral judgment and past exposure.

One of the major barriers that prevents many qualified workers from finding and retaining employment is the way we test for drugs, especially marijuana.