Why Employers Should Continue to Test for Marijuana

A man holding a marijuana cigarette to the camera with smoke. Marijuana testing

As more and more states legalize the medical and recreational use of marijuana, employers may wonder whether it is still worth it to test their employees for THC. There are several factors to consider regarding continued marijuana testing and employers’ choice to keep or drop it.

Why drop marijuana testing?

There are a few reasons why some employers have begun to remove marijuana from their drug testing panels. Without marijuana testing, companies can hire and retain more employees, even if THC is found in their system. Employers may also see it as unnecessary since the stigma surrounding marijuana use has decreased in recent years, especially as state legalization spreads.

Since 2012, 38 states in the U.S. have legalized medical marijuana and implemented medical marijuana registration cards. This has resulted in a significant increase in Americans using marijuana. Many employers have removed THC from their panels in an effort to retain good employees. In addition, 23 states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and 9 more have decriminalized it. This leaves only 10 out of 50 states where it is fully illegal to use marijuana, and considered a criminal act.

As legalization has progressed over the last 10 years, the stigma surrounding marijuana use has reduced greatly. In certain industries, some employers may feel that marijuana use does not pose a great enough threat to safety within their environments to warrant marijuana testing.

Marijuana use is increasing

Positivity rates for THC have been steadily increasing in the general U.S. workforce for twenty years, per annual Quest DTI reports. From 2021 to 2022 alone, marijuana positivity increased by 10.26% in the general U.S. workforce. THC positivity is even higher in states that have legalized recreational use, where the general U.S. workforce saw an 11.8% increase in 2022. These numbers show no inclination of leveling out soon.

Statistics also show that a consistent drug testing program is an effective way to dissuade employees from using illicit drugs, including marijuana. While the general U.S. workforce saw a marijuana positivity rate of 4.3% in 2022, the federally mandated, safety-sensitive marijuana positivity rate was just 0.98%.

Marijuana use is impacting worker safety

In 2022, post-accident positivity rates for marijuana reached a 25-year high . This suggests a direct correlation between marijuana use and on-the-job accidents and incidents.

Marijuana is still illegal on a federal level

While many state governments choose to legalize marijuana, it may be easy to forget that marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the United States federal government. This means that for any federally mandated, safety-sensitive worker, it is illegal to use THC, even in states that allow medical or recreational use.

Note: Some states have gone so far as to place restrictions on employers’ abilities to test their employees for THC. For example, New York has disallowed any form of cannabis testing for employees within the state with very minor exceptions, and Philadelphia only allows THC to be screened in pre-employment drug testing. Always follow your state’s specific laws regarding testing for marijuana.

A lack of testing may lead to increased workplace incidents

Per a survey by the National Safety Council, more than half of surveyed employers that eliminated THC testing reported an increase in workplace incidents or other workplace safety concerns. Eliminating marijuana testing only seems to increase safety risks for both employers and employees.

Conclusion

While the decision to test for marijuana is ultimately up to individual employers to decide, several current factors may make choosing to drop marijuana testing more of a danger than a help to employers and employees. Marijuana positivity rates continue to rise year over year, and workplace accidents are rising along with it.  An effective drug testing program is one of the best ways that employers can ensure workplace safety for their employees, as shown in the wide gap between the positivity rates of the general U.S. workforce and the federally mandated workforce.

TEAM has several options for employers looking to ensure workplace safety, including drug testing and background checks. You can learn more about this on our services page.