Drug testers dispute drop in pot screenings

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National reports of the demise of pre-employment marijuana drug screening may not hold true locally, drug testers say, citing an uptick in business.

“I’ve actually had more business since legalization,” said Chuck Marting, owner of Colorado Mobile Drug Testing. “What’s happening now is you have employers who have employees that are coming to them and saying they have a medical marijuana card or they’re smoking marijuana and there is nothing they can do about it because it’s legal.”

That’s not the case, however, said Marting and Dianna Taylor, president of Springs-based IGNIS Forensics LLC.

The duo referenced Amendment 64, which “allow[s] public and private employers to enact and enforce workplace policies pertaining to marijuana.”

A recent Associated Press article said data is scarce when it comes to the number of businesses performing pre-employment drug tests or companies that have dropped marijuana from screenings.

Taylor says she hasn’t had any clients ask her to stop testing for cannabis during the past two years.

“Nope. Not a one,” she said.

Still, more organizations are starting to publicly announce plans to abandon the requirement, such as Caesars Entertainment Corp. in Las Vegas.

“A number of states have changed their laws and we felt we might be missing some good candidates because of the marijuana issue. And we felt that pre-screening for marijuana was, on the whole, counterproductive,” Rich Broome, executive vice president of corporate communications and community affairs for Caesars, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Monday. “If somebody is believed to be using or high at work, then we would continue to screen for marijuana and other drugs.”

A nonprofit dedicated to reforming marijuana laws and protecting marijuana consumers, Colorado NORML contends drug testing for a substance that’s legal within a state is unjust.

“Cannabis should be safe to consume in a legal state without fear of losing your job, discrimination, or hesitation when filling out job applications,” said Ashley Weber, executive director of Colorado NORML, in a written statement. “Performing a lawful recreational activity on Friday or Saturday shouldn’t be grounds for an employee termination.”

Weber believes Colorado lawmakers need to amend the unlawful prohibition of legal activities as a condition of employment.

“This will allow the adult use of cannabis and provides a legislative fix for the Coats vs. DISH case,” she said.

In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a ruling that allowed DISH Network to terminate an employee for using medical marijuana while off duty.

Positive tests for marijuana have risen the last five years in urine screenings both in the general U.S. workforce and the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, according to an analysis released Tuesday by Quest Diagnostics, a diagnostic information services company.

Between 2016-2017, the general U.S. workforce experienced a 4 percent jump in positive marijuana testing, while there was a nearly 8 percent increase in the safety-sensitive workforce.

States where recreational use was more recently enacted saw greater spikes in marijuana positivity rates in the general workforce.

“These increases are similar to the increases we observed after recreational marijuana use statutes were passed in Washington and Colorado,” said Dr. Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics, in a news release. “While it is too early to tell if this is a trend, our data suggests that the recreational use of marijuana is spilling into the workforce, including among individuals most responsible for keeping our communities safe. We encourage policy analysts to track these trends closely to determine whether a correlation between the state legalization of marijuana and increased workforce drug use, as suggested by our data, bears out in other research.”

Marting says part of the problem is many cannabis users don’t realize marijuana stays in a person’s system even long after consumption has stopped.

“Drug testing wasn’t developed for saying a person is impaired,” he said. “It’s for saying that substance was in their body.”

Tests for impairment, such as a Breathalyzer with alcohol, don’t currently exist for marijuana.

“If you talk to scientists or doctors right now, they are telling us it’s going to be decades before something like that will be able to be used,” Marting said.

The inability to tell if someone is under the influence while working is among the reasons Marting and Taylor encourage businesses to have drug-free workplace policies. “If you have an employee go out for lunch at Pizza Hut and they have a pitcher of beer and then came back to work, what are you going to do as an employer?” Marting said. “It’s legal, what they did. It’s the same thing with marijuana, but if these employers have policies and procedures in place, they can quickly and legally deal with it if a person comes in impaired.”

An employee’s punishment doesn’t necessarily have to include termination — at least initially.

“A lot of the companies have a second-chance policy so that if employees do come up positive, they go through counseling to make sure there are no more issues,” Marting said, adding he helps businesses write drug abuse procedures as well as develop rehabilitation programs for employees.

And, certain liability insurance companies will offer discounts to employers with drug-free policies.

“It’s because they are trying to bring down health care and safety costs in their workplace,” Marting said. “I think it is unfair to go to an employer and tie their hands saying you can’t test for marijuana because it’s legal, and you have to employ these people. When did we start dictating to employers who they employ?”

Meanwhile, Taylor painted a hypothetical situation involving an impaired delivery driver under the influence of marijuana getting into a wreck, and what that can mean for the business owner.

“If you have someone you are paying to drive and deliver those flowers or edible arrangements and they get in an accident and they find out they are impaired, guess who is getting sued? The company with its name plastered on the van,” she said. “Those types of situations can cost that employer their liability insurance and worker’s compensation, and if a business gets to a point where they can’t have those two things right there, it will close their doors. They’re done.”