Quest Authors Offer Suggestions for Employers in States with Marijuana Laws

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL ( – Employers concerned about the increasing use of marijuana among their workers, especially in states that allow it recreationally, may want to reevaluate their policies dealing with drug testing and/or use. That’s one suggestion from the authors of a recent report on workplace drug testing positiviity rates.

Quest Diagnostics’ analysis this month showed the positive rate of workplace drug tests climbed to its highest level since 2004, mainly due to marijuana. The relaxation of some state laws, combined with the tight labor market have prompted some employers to exclude THC from their drug tests. But others seeking to protect their employees and customers, are advised to weigh the risks the drug may pose to their businesses, as they craft policies.

“Employers need to be aware that marijuana may not be as benign as some people think; it can negatively impact performance and safety,” said Barry Sample, senior director of Science & Technology at Quest and one of the study’s authors. “In several states with recreational statutes there are increasing numbers of traffic accidents where marijuana is involved. You can’t prove causation, but it’s interesting that to a certain extent it’s a little alarming they are seeing an increase since recreational use statues have passed. So it’s really remaining cognizant of the risk.”

Sample pointed out that the increased positivity rate was not evident in states that allow marijuana only for medicinal use. In those, he said the positivity rate was on par with those of other states.

One of the issues about drug testing is the fact that unlike with other drugs or alcohol, a positive drug test for marijuana does not necessarily imply the person is impaired. The drug stays in the body after the main effects have worn off.

Employers are advised to take a careful look at their policies to see whether any changes make sense.

“Look at the workforce policy companies that do drug testing. There are other matrixes that can prove effective,” suggested Kimberly Samano, scientific director at Quest Diagnostics and co-author of the study. “Oral fluid testing is really going to detect more recent use, especially post-accident.”

She also recommends reviewing drug-testing policies “to make sure in the event of an accident you have specific language as to how that will be handled.”

The authors also suggested employers consider going beyond just pre-employment testing. “Random testing can be an effective tool,” Sample said. “But they need to be aware some states absolutely prohibit it. Other states may permit it but restrict it to those in safety sensitive positions.

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