Urinalysis drug testing discriminates against cannabis users

While the stigma against marijuana is decreasing, there is still much more work to be done

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Pre-employment drug testing for marijuana via urinalysis punishes potential candidates for using cannabis on their off time. (Photo courtesy of Burst.Shopify.com)

Thomas Cathey, Managing Editor

Despite the growing acceptance of recreational cannabis use and its legalization in some states in the United States, many employers are still drug testing current and potential employees for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana—with urinalysis as the most commonly used method. Unfortunately though, urinalysis drug screenings for THC are still causing an unnecessary barrier between solid and qualified candidates and their desired job position.

According to an August 2018 article from Healthline.com, people who use cannabis frequently can test positive for THC as long as 90 days after the last usage. Since THC metabolites cling to fat cells in the body that are excreted through urine, it can take some time for the metabolites to leave the system, especially if it belongs to someone who uses cannabis often.

The problem with drug testing for THC via urinalysis, is that it penalizes cannabis users for smoking or ingesting marijuana on their personal time, outside of work. It also reinforces the tired stereotype that people who use marijuana are lazy or dumb, and can’t possibly perform a difficult job if they use it at all.

Ideally, drug tests should only be used to indicate whether or not the testee is taking substances that would impair their ability to perform their job function. So, it would make more sense for employers to test for more immediate signs of intoxication. But because of tradition, many employers—even in California where marijuana is legal—have a zero tolerance policy for people that use cannabis, even if they qualify otherwise.

Ironically, people who use more serious and damaging drugs that are part of a typical five-panel test, like meth, cocaine, opiates, etc., are better off taking a urinalysis drug test than someone who uses cannabis. In fact, marijuana can stay in the urine longer than any of the other drugs tested for on the panel.

Meanwhile, alcohol gets a free pass when it comes to pre-employment drug testing, as many employers choose not to test for that. It’s even been proven that alcohol is more harmful, as there haven’t been any reported deaths linked to marijuana. Alcohol on the other hand, kills around 75,000 people a year, according to an article from SpoonUniversity.com.

One of two things should be done: either employers should completely do away with drug testing for marijuana, or administer a different method of testing, like a mouth swab. A mouth swab drug screening would test for more recent usage, as the general detection window is about five to 48 hours. Mouth swab tests would also be quicker, and it would make it harder for the testee to cheat on the test, since the administrator would take the saliva sample themselves.

Employers should undoubtedly have the right to require their employees to be sober at work. But employees shouldn’t have a say in what their employees do in their own free time, especially if that person is good at their job or is a qualified candidate.

In order to become a more progressive society, we must decrease the stigma of marijuana usage, as it has been beneficial to millions of people. In many ways, that stigma has already been decreased, but the fact that testing positive for marijuana during a pre-employment screening is an absolute deal breaker for many employers proves that there is still much more work to be done.