More Americans are failing drug tests because of pot than ever before, and the solutions to the problem range from blaming legalization to dropping drug testing for pot altogether.
Quest Diagnostics drug-tested over 11 million people during 2021, via urine, hair, and oral fluid drug tests, analyzed about 9 million of the tests, and found some startling trends. According to a Quest Diagnostics newsroom press release quietly released last month, more people are failing drug tests due to pot use than ever before.
The rate of positive drug test results among America’s workforce overall hit a 20-year peak as well. It’s the highest rate since 2001, up over 30% in the combined U.S. workforce from an all-time low in 2010-2012, according to the analysis.
For an interactive map of the Drug Testing Index (DTI) with positivity rates and trends, click here.
“Positivity rates for marijuana in the general U.S. workforce, based on more than 6 million urine tests, continued an upward climb, increasing 8.3% (3.6% in 2020 versus 3.9% in 2021), the highest positivity rate ever reported in the DTI,” the survey summarizes. “Over five years, positivity for marijuana in the general U.S. workforce increased 50% (2.6% in 2017 versus 3.9% in 2021).”
The Wall Street Journal pointed out the number of states that have legalized cannabis since 2017, when the rates of positive drug tests were lower. Fresh Toast, on the other hand, questioned whether or not it’s time for policymakers to reflect what is going on in the general workforce amid the report of record-high numbers.
Quest Diagnostics leaders acknowledged a disconnect between changes in society and the drug testing results they found. Drug tests not only impact job applicants and employees—but the retention rates employers grapple with.
“Employers are wrestling with significant recruitment and retention challenges as well as with maintaining safe and engaging work environments that foster positive mental and physical wellbeing,” said Keith Ward, General Manager and Vice President, Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions. “Our Drug Testing Index data raises important questions about what it means to be an employer committed to employee health and safety. Eager to attract talent, employers may be tempted to lower their standards. In the process, they raise the specter of more drug-related impairment and worksite accidents that put other employees and the general public in harms’ way.”
Drug Testing for Cannabis Is Not Reliable Indicator of Impairment
A study associated with the National Institute of Justice found that THC levels are “unreliable indicators” of impairment. National Institute of Justice-supported researchers from RTI International studied how specific cannabis doses correlate with THC levels, and their findings were surprising.
“Laws regarding driving under the influence of marijuana vary from state to state, with a growing trend toward ‘per se’ laws that use a level of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, one of the psychoactive substances in marijuana) in the blood, urine, or oral fluid as a determinant of intoxication,” researchers wrote. “However, there is little evidence correlating a specific THC level with impaired driving, making marijuana per se laws controversial and difficult to prosecute.”
This aligns with what researchers from the Lambert Initiative, based at the University of Sydney in Australia, told High Times last year. Researchers at the Lambert Initiative focus some studies on cannabis impairment itself and the drug tests that are supposed to determine impairment.
“Unlike alcohol, you simply cannot infer whether some is affected by THC, or how affected they are, based simply on the amount of THC they have in their system,” Dr. Thomas R. Arkell told High Times last October.
He continued, saying it’s “ridiculous” to base laws and workplace rules on drug tests when it comes to cannabinoids.
Jobs That Don’t Drug Test
Do employers really need to drug test potential employees? Former President Ronald Reagan’s Drug Free Workplace Act was implemented in 1988. It started with 21% employers requiring drug tests in 1987, and that number shot to 81% by 1996.
The profound influence of state after state legalizing cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, combined with labor, is driving employers to reconsider pre-employment drug tests for cannabis among job applicants.
The most notable company to do so would probably be Amazon. On June 1, 2021, the company released a blog post based on its goal to become both “Earth’s Best Employer” and “Earth’s Safest Place to Work.” In that announcement, it confirmed that it would be adjusting its drug testing policy to avoid testing for cannabis.