Punching a clock is just part of daily life for most of us poor schlubs. We get up at the crack of dawn, drag ourselves to whatever is our chosen craft and spend the day grinding away to make ends meet. Some would argue that the best part about going to the jobsite in the morning is getting the leave eight hours later because that’s when it’s time to unwind and cut loose. For many Americans, that means indulging in a few beers to forget about the woes of the day. For a growing number of others, however, it’s cannabis.
Yep, catching a buzz after the day is done has kept countless American workers on the right side of sane as they slowly inch towards retirement. They just aren’t awarded the same privileges and protection appreciated by their beer drinking counterparts. A lot of workplaces across the US, both in legal jurisdictions and those where prohibition remains the law of the land, continue to ban employee cannabis use.
“I’ve worked at Toyota for four years and they pop me with at least two random drug screens every year,” a 38-year-old production worker named Cliff tells Cannabis Now. “You kind of hope to get a random because that means you can smoke and probably not get hit with another one for a few months.” That system doesn’t always work out. “I worked with a guy who did that and got popped two months in a row,” he says. “He knew he was screwed. Sad, $31 an hour gone.”
Unfortunately, even now that cannabis is legal in a multitude of states for both medicinal and adult use, it still has a bad reputation with corporate America. The plant is largely misunderstood among the suits, especially in the context of how it metabolizes in the body. One of the biggest issues surrounding cannabis in the workplace is that it’s fat soluble, making it where a person can use cannabis on Tuesday night after work and still test positive for it a week or more later. That isn’t a problem unless the worker, a fork truck driver, for example, has a workplace accident, of his fault or somebody else’s, and is required to take a drug test. Even if he lives in a legal state where adults 21 and older are allowed to consume cannabis, his job, his livelihood is in peril.
“I was fired several years ago for testing positive for THC,” Brian, 45, a Tool and Die Maker from Kentucky told Cannabis Now. “I smashed my fingertips off in a press” and had “to go to the hospital where they made me piss in a cup. I smoked about two days before the accident, but never smoked at work. A week later I’m sitting in an office with a bunch of suits who where there to point their finger at the pothead and say this is what you get for smoking the dope. They might as well of put Pablo Escobar in the room with me and interrogated both of us. They canned me for it,” he said.
This injustice happens all the time, even though employees testing positive for cannabis isn’t always indicative of impairment. Cannabis users can, in fact, consume once they’re finished with their daily duties, just like millions of beer drinkers, and the rest of their workdays will remain unaffected. Even science agrees. A recent study from the University of Toronto, University at Buffalo and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute finds that workers who enjoy cannabis after work or no more likely to get injured on the job than those who do not. After exploring thousands of workers, the study authors wrote: “No statistically elevated association was seen for non-workplace use.”
Working class cannabis users argue that’s what they’ve been trying to tell their employers all along. “There’s no way smoking the night before has any effect on my work performance the next day,” says Cliff. “Can’t risk my job doing it all the time, though, because the money is too good.”
In some cases, business owners have the freedom to direct the policy related to drug testing in the workplace. Most restaurant owners, for example, aren’t testing their employees for cannabis use every time someone cuts their finger. “If I fired employees for smoking pot, I wouldn’t have anyone left to run this place,” says the owner of an establishment who wishes to remain anonymous. Fact is, there is no requirement in most states for private companies to test their employees for drugs. However, the same cannot be said of corporations held to federal safety standards. These businesses are required to implement a drug free workplace, which requires drug testing as part of a pre-employment screen, random drug testing and testing in the event of an accident. The situation prevents a lot of cannabis users from leaving the restaurant for a better job.
Now, testing employees for cannabis isn’t some big conspiracy intended to starve out the stoned. Sure, weed is illegal at the federal level, making those who use it subject to the policies of a drug-free workplace. But the same workplace prohibitions apply to alcohol—a substance that has been legal nationwide for decades. Had Brian cut off his fingers while under the influence of booze, he would have found himself in the same unfortunate predicament—fingerless and out of a job. This is standard.
The problem with cannabis is there’s no accurate test to determine whether a consumer is impaired or whether they simply consumed in the past month. Science must catch up with the social progressions of drug reform or else more workers risk being terminated for enjoying a plant their state deems legal.
Simply testing positive for THC isn’t necessarily a threat in the workplace. And it’s not a good reason to fire an otherwise good employee.