Denver Staffing Agency - Colorado Marijuana Positive Rates Increased 20%

  • Posted by: J. Kent Gervasini |
  • 9/19/14 |
  • 5:38 PM
Denver Staffing Agency - Colorado Marijuana Positive Rates Increased 20%
About the Author
Allen Smith, J.D. is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM (Society for Human Resource Mangement)

Drug Use Up Among Workers - 09/19/14, Allen Smith
For the first time since 2003, the rate of positive drug tests among workers is up, largely due to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington state, according to Quest Diagnostics.

Marijuana Positive Rates Increased 20% in Colorado and 23% in Washington Between 2012 and 2013
Marijuana positive rates increased 20 percent in Colorado and 23 percent in Washington between 2012 and 2013, compared to the 5 percent average increase among the U.S. general workforce in all 50 states. Colorado and Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2012.

Colorado and Washington Foreshadow Future Trends in Recreational Marijuana Use
 “Washington and Colorado are believed by many to foreshadow future trends in recreational marijuana use,” said Barry Sample, director, science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions, in a Sept. 11, 2014, news release. However, “employers generally have the authority to restrict the recreational use of marijuana by employees and impose sanctions, including termination, on employees with positive drug tests in all 50 states.”

Drug Use Up Among Workers
The overall drug test positive rate has decreased from an all-time high of 13.6 percent in 1988 to 3.7 percent in 2013, which Howard Mavity, an attorney with Fisher & Phillips in Atlanta, described as “astonishing.” 

While the rate ticked up only from 3.5 percent to 3.7 percent in 2013, Mavity said it is “a big deal” because it hasn’t risen in more than a decade. 

In addition to a rise in marijuana use, the use of amphetamines, including methamphetamine and prescription medications for conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and narcolepsy, rose by almost 10 percent from 0.77 percent to 0.85 percent. 

The use of prescription opiates declined 8 percent from 0.96 percent to 0.88 percent. Four states experienced double-digit declines in prescribed opiates: Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Ohio. 

Drug Testing Popularized in Late 1980s
Drug testing first became popular in the late 1980s, Mavity said. Initially, the unions pushed back, but now workers “don’t blink at pre-employment drug testing. It’s become routine,” he remarked. “It’s the same for random drug testing. It’s become an engrained part of the workforce.” 

But for-cause drug testing remains contested under state drug testing laws, he added. For-cause drug tests also are the most common tests, followed by post-accident testing, then applicant testing and lastly random testing. 

Mavity noted that a drug test before an offer of employment is not considered a prohibited medical exam under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Where the ADA poses a challenge is screening for the use of prescription drugs. If their use poses a direct threat to safety that can’t be reduced by reasonable accommodation, their use may be a bar to employment. But the direct-threat standard is a high threshold and direct-threat determinations must be made on a case-by-case basis.

Employers Attitude / Position on Drug Policies as a Practical Matter Will Vary
While some employers opt for a zero tolerance policy on illegal drugs, as a practical matter, other employers “do not necessarily want to catch all drug users,” Mavity said. “In reality, a lot come in after the weekend after having smoked pot and do a good job. If an employer really eliminates every drug user, it may have difficulty filling openings in the workforce.”

Employer Serious About Catching All Drug Users Use "Hair Tests"
For those that are serious about catching all drug users, particularly in safety-sensitive positions, hair tests may be preferable to urine or saliva tests, Mavity observed, as hair testing shows a longer period of drug use. Hair testing may have a positive result up to four to six months after drug use, he noted. 

Source:  Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM.

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