Pre-employment drug testing is wasteful

Victoria Zawitowski
Staff Columnist

illustration by Annette Allen

If you’re in Washington, D.C., on April 20 to celebrate festivities and smoke pot in a legal location, you may still end up paying for that legal use one way or another.

Regardless of how you may feel about marijuana legalization, it’s happening and yet there are citizens of the same country who are losing jobs for failing pre-employment drug tests. This is especially ridiculous, considering 47 percent of Americans have tried pot, according to the Pew Research Center. It’s hard enough to find gainful employment without potentially failing a test for doing something legal in other parts of the country.

Marijuana is legal in some form in 23 states, and four allow recreational use, not including Washington, D.C., a city set within a state that still has strict laws against marijuana. As a resident of Virginia, you could take a trip to D.C. or even any of these other pot-friendly states and then fail a drug test and be punished for it when you return home.

These pre-employment drug tests are not even a good indicator of workplace performance. Companies are convinced the cost of drug testing is lower than the cost of having employees who use drugs within their companies. 

In 1999, the ACLU conducted a study on drug-testing in the workplace and called it a “bad investment.” According to their study, in one year 38 federal government agencies spent $11.7 million on drug testing. Drug-testing companies are private businesses pushing their own agenda and trying to market their services by creating a demand.

The few studies that quoted a “lost productivity” number for businesses with drug users were found to be baseless. According to the ACLU’s report, one study compared the household incomes of families who used drugs to those that didn’t and found a difference of $33 million. That $33 million difference in wages became the “lost productivity” due to drugs.

Alcohol is also a legal substance that can be abused and even worse for you than using marijuana. We allow that to be regulated for people over 21, which is exactly how states that have legalized it are regulating marijuana. According to Pew, about 70 percent of Americans believe alcohol is more harmful to a person’s health than marijuana. There is no investigation into individuals’ alcohol use prior to their hire. People would consider that a violation of privacy.

There are drugs that should be strictly forbidden, especially for certain jobs involving transportation or supervising children. Drugs like cocaine and heroin, which are highly addictive stay in the system for even less time than marijuana, meaning employers are unlikely to catch it with testing. As Gina Tron said in a Feb. 26 Washington Post article about drug testing for marijuana, “if a worker binged on cocaine or meth and took a drug test a few days later, he or she might pass more easily than somebody who smoked a joint a few weeks ago.”

Employers should still reprimand employees who are impaired on the job due to drug use.  But when marijuana is allowed for medicinal purposes in most states and decriminalized in many others, testing potential hires for it seems like a waste of money and is not necessarily beneficial to a company’s efficiency. Recreational marijuana use will eventually be legal in the U.S., so why are we continuing this senseless practice? Pre-employment drug testing does nothing to curb criminal activity or increase their productivity. It simply serves to keep even more people from finding jobs.

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