Give Us Your Poor, Your Unemployed, Your Dope Fiends

Tyler Durden's picture

The Great Recession had one effect on Americans you don’t hear much about - regular illicit drug use increased by approximately 2.5 million users in 36 months, from 2007 to 2010.  The year 2011 (the most recent data available) saw a slight decline to an estimated 8.7% (from 8.9%) of all Americans regularly using illegal drugs, but, as ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, this is still 19.5 million people who would find it difficult to pass a pre-employment drug test.  The NIH’s National Institute of Drug Abuse & Addiction 2012 survey found that 17.2% of unemployed adults are current users of illicit drugs versus 8.0% who are full-time employed.  While this is certainly only a partial explanation of the current still-high domestic unemployment rate, it does highlight how well-intentioned state-by-state decriminalization of drugs such as marijuana can work against a better national employment picture.

Via ConvergEx's Nick Colas,

Drug testing is commonplace in American business.  Every year, millions of employees and prospective hires submit to either random testing or required pre-employment screening.  Passing is a prerequisite of employment for new hires and can lead to dismissal in the case of an existing employee.  Whether you want a job as a truck driver in the Bakken or an investment banker in New York, chances are very good that you will have to submit to, and pass, a test for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, heroin/opiates and PCP. Put another way, the specimen cup is the gateway to employment.

One of the less-discussed features of the Great Recession relates to the same topic: more Americans became regular users of illegal drugs during this period than at any point in the last decade.   A few salient datapoints from the last published National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2011):

  • Some 22.5 million Americans reported using illicit drugs in the prior month.  That is 8.7% of the over-12 year old domestic population, with the 2010 survey showing a similar 8.9% usage rate.  Prior to the 2007 Financial Crisis and subsequent recession, that number was 8.0%.
  • The entire pickup in illegal drug usage over the 2007 – 2011 timeframe is from an increase in reported use of marijuana.  Seven percent of the over-12 population reported using the drug in the prior 30 days in 2011, up from 5.8% in 2007.  Seizure data from the FBI, tracked by the U.S. Census, supports the survey results.  In 2010 (most recently available data) U.S. law enforcement seized 4.5 million pounds of marijuana from smugglers, dealers and users, up from 3.0 million pounds in 2006. 
  • Among the unemployed, reported illicit drug usage was 17.2% of that population, versus 8.0% for their counterparts who are employed full-time.  It is worth noting that the survey protocol is in-person, with participants answering questions by filling out a computerized questionnaire.  They receive $30 for completing the survey.  Given the sensitive nature of questions over illegal drug use, it is entirely possible that the survey understates such use – perhaps materially –despite assurances of anonymity and confidentiality.

Putting these two points – pervasive drug testing and rising rates of drug usage – together raises a useful question: how much of the current still-high rates of U.S. unemployment is due to prospective employees who cannot pass a drug test?  It is a question that the Boston branch of the Federal Reserve actually highlighted in their contribution to the most recent Beige Book.  One of their contacts mentioned that they were having trouble hiring low-skill workers, in part due to failed drug tests and quoted the source as saying that this problem, along with spotty attendance, “May result from behaviors developed during extended periods of unemployment.”

So how concerned are workers and prospective hires about the possibility of a failed drug test?  To answer that question we went to the same place I imagine most of them go: Google. 

Some observations using Google Trends (and several supporting charts immediately following the text):

  • Searches for the phrase “Failed drug test” on Google have increased 2-5x from pre-recessionary levels in 2005-2006.  Likewise, “Positive drug test” searches have doubled over the same period.  Oddly, “Beat a drug test “ is roughly flat over the same period.  Modern chemical testing is tough to “Beat” and users – drug and Google alike – may know that.
  • The Google maps which highlight above-average levels of search volume by state show a clear correlation between state-level unemployment (table included) and “Failed”/”Positive” drug test search volume.  High unemployment states such as Michigan and most of the southern USA are clearly also areas where Google sees a higher level of interest in these queries.
  • California is a disproportionate contributor to the nation’s still-high unemployment picture, so it deserves special mention here.  The most recent unemployment rate in California is 9.8%, well above the national rate of 7.8%.  And Google searches for “Failed”/”Positive” drug test results are above average as well.  But lest you think the state’s well-known medical marijuana laws have somehow seeped into broad enough usage to skew the unemployment picture, think again.  There have only been some 66,000 cards issued for medical marijuana use since the inception of the current program eight years ago.

So, given the Google Trends data, it seems clear that an increasing number of Americans are concerned about how their drug usage may affect their employment prospects.  At the same time, U.S. corporations are unlikely to change their policies towards the issue.  The Department of Labor actively promotes drug testing on its “eLaws Advisors” website, chronicling both the costs (billions of dollars annually) and successes achieved by companies with stringent drug testing requirements for new and existing workers.  That means that drug testing is not only a condition of any Federal employment, but also in safety sensitive jobs, where agencies such as the Department of Transportation hold sway.

The intersection of government drug policy and employment is in the recent trend for U.S. states to decriminalize marijuana possession.  Recall that this is far and away the most popular illegal drug among Americans.  As of January 2012, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, Alabama, Ohio, North Carolina, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine all have varying laws which make the possession of small amounts of marijuana either legal or subject to a de minimus penalty.  In New York, for example, possession of 25 grams or less on a first offence is a $100 fine and considered a “Violation,” akin to a traffic ticket.

But for all these lessening of the strictures, marijuana use will still trigger a positive drug reading on the standard pre- and current employment urine test.  The minimum standard used by most employers, courtesy of the U.S. government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), tests for:

  • Marijuana/Hashish
  • Cocaine in all forms
  • Amphetamines
  • Opiates such as Heroin
  • PCP

The critical issue is that while states might set their own laws, the Federal government still rates marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, alongside heroin, LSD and Ecstasy (MDMA).  As recently as December 2012, both SAMHSA and the Department of Transportation - where drug testing is understandably important - reiterated that marijuana remains part of their established “Panel” (those five drugs mentioned above) and that they do not recognize any medical use or state exemptions for criminality.  Even Colorado, which last November passed some of the most relaxed drug laws in the country, allows employers to continue to test for, and terminate/not hire, marijuana use.

In summary, drug use and testing does not (of course) explain the still high levels of national unemployment on their own.  Issues of cyclical sluggishness and select structural issues still hold the reins here.  But as policymakers struggle to keep the country’s unemployment rate on a downward trajectory, it does seem clear that national drug policy and state-level lawmaking are working at cross-purposes.  With drug use among the unemployed at levels double their full-time employed peers (17% versus 8%), and marijuana use on a solid uptrend, national drug policy and macroeconomic priorities appear to be on different – and conflicting – tracks.

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Say What Again's picture

"I picked the wrong day to stop taking amphetamines."

- Airplane

AlaricBalth's picture

If TBTF banks on Wall Street tested for drugs there would be hardly anyone left to "manage" the markets.
Hey, Not a bad idea!!!

NotApplicable's picture

Meanwhile, I'm like the only damn person I know of who takes NO pharmaceuticals. which is the real drug problem.

Say What Again's picture

I don't need any drugs.  The SEC has told me that "I feel just fine, thank you."

Richard Chesler's picture

It's good for the flu
Good for asthma, 
Good for tuberculosis, 
Even coping with bullshit.

hedgeless_horseman's picture




Employees and kids are getting high and you cannot test for it.

Serenity and other "incense" do not show up on those cups. contains a blend of plants that alone have no effect but are then treated with a blend of synthetic cannabinoids structurally unrelated to THC and thus not included in the analogue act. Completely legal to possess and will not trip a drug screen for probation or any test for that matter. If you get a false positive it will be sent and tested for THC-COOH and it will come back negative.

Stackers's picture

I guess this pack a day habbit of Marlboro Jamaican Red Hair is getting to be a problem

Fukushima Sam's picture

"However, it has been documented in some areas that those who are selling Serenity are lacing it with actual marijuana in order to improve the high. They want people to come back to them for the "good" Serenity."

Can't beat the real thing!

11b40's picture

Long prison operators.  Amerika's real growth industry!

Race Car Driver's picture

> I don't need any drugs. 

"Why do you smoke this shit? So as to escape from reality? Me, I don't need this shit. I am reality. There's the way it ought to be. And there's the way it is. Elias was full of shit. Elias was a crusader. Now, I got no fight with any man who does what he's told, but when he don't, the machine breaks down. And when the machine breaks down, we break down. And I ain't gonna allow that in any of you. Not one."

- Sgt. Barnes

(... now get back to work - we got Social Security to pay!)

We all know a dumbass like Barnes.

3.7.77's picture

Me either.

How about this, as a condition of drawing any form of gov supplement, a random test is required.

This should cut down the budget a little.

phyuckyiu's picture

Is it time for your next Oxycontin yet? Your 12 hour timer says it is! Happy day. Did you and your wife remember their Adderall this morning? Nothing like a little mother's little helper ya know. Don't forget your Ambien tonight (remember cut the dosage in half, we were wrong the last 15 yrs, we were giving you double). Oh, Dancing With The Stars is on! Happy day.

Sweet Pea's picture

Same here....a little Adderal and I coulda been a contenda!

nugjuice's picture

What you said. I'm not at 0% but I'd say I only take about half a dozen tylenol and half a dozen mucinex per year.

Marijuna is a different story. I consider it a drug about as much as I consider caffeine a drug (only as a technicality)

Say What Again's picture

Everyone is taking more drugs in an attempt to dull the pain of watching a manipulated market make rich peoples richer.

Skateboarder's picture

Putting illicit in front of drugs puts the sayer of the phrase on a higher 'moral ground.' Fuck anyone who says 'illegal/illicit drugs.' Disgusting mentality. And doublefuck anyone who says 'illegal/illicit drugs' and also is a regular subscriber to drugs spat out by bigPharma.

phyuckyiu's picture

I grovel before the mighty sage.

trav777's picture

it gets even BETTER!!!!

There are fairly PROFOUND demographics differences in the rate of drug test failure...consequently, you have what we call "disparate impact," which is prima facie racism.

This means that they are actually, both in criminal background as well as drug screening and credit history, OVERLOOKING disqualifying negatives (they do for USG security clearances too) if you are the right demographic.  And by "right" I do NOT mean the one that supposedly has "privilege" (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA).

If you are the wrong kind of minority or if you are "privileged," then you get the PRIVILEGE of suffering far greater consequences for missteps that are simply ignored for members of the right groups.

In order to equalize outcome, they are going to have to start suspending and expelling asian kids for chewing gum.

Bob's picture

You really need to try something better, man:

Open that mind!

Bob's picture

Damn, tough crowd.  Jesus.  Okay, how about this:

Bob's picture

Somebody around here hates Liberty.  Let me bring the 2nd Amendment to your attention:

Smoke like a real patriot, biaatch!

Liberty: It's not just for Job Creators.

Fukushima Sam's picture

Okay boys, get out the cone-shaped tin foil hats!

phyuckyiu's picture

Hate to tell you, but Trav is correct. They allow more transgressions for non white applicants to law enforcement, fbi, cia, etc. You are allowed to fuck up more. You are also allowed to be dumber. Enjoy your ignorance.

Bob's picture

Must be why the jails and prisons are fulla crackers.

EscapingProgress's picture

Who comes up with this shit? 8.7%? Give me a fucking break! Try 30 or 40%+.

11b40's picture

It was a form, voluntarily filled out......strictly low IQ users, I would guess.  Probably needed to be stoned to bother with it.

What would really be interesting to know is how many of the 'unemployed' have joined the grower community.  Seriously.  If you are unemployed and have plenty of time on your hands, making a grand or more per plant beats working at McD's.  And, when you get good at it, a pound of the good stuff can fetch $2-3K no problem.

phyuckyiu's picture

You missed the heyday after George H.W. Bush invaded Humboldt with the national guard helicopters in 1988. Made the price jump from $35 to $50 in one summer. So, getting the same price in 1989 as today, without 24 years of inflation. And actually, the price just went back down to $35 again at the clubs after CO. and WA. legalized. True capitalism at work. It's not really profitable anymore. NOT that would know anything about this topic or ummm... anything.

Dingleberry's picture

Ask any employer that hires jobs that require drug screens and see what you get. EVERYONE is smoking bowls of pot now. It's unbelieveable. No one can piss clean anymore.  That is what your nation has become. A bunch of fucking obese potheads.

phyuckyiu's picture

Funny you would say that, my co-worker at work just died of Cirrhosis, she was 49. Drank her whole life. Spent about 200k in two weeks in E.R. having multiple organ failures, she had a colostomy bag for the last week. Mean fucking bitch too.

Cathartes Aura's picture

inflamed liver = anger

so of course, that's gov't approved.

pot?  when not combined with other stuffs, pretty mellow folks all round, IMHO.

Frankie Carbone's picture

Whe was the last time that you saw someone stoned get into a fight? Hell, they don't even want to get off the sofa, let alone get into a brawl. 

Total opposite of booze. 

diffusing's picture

obese potheads?  seriously?  you clearly know nothing about this subject.  i have never met an obese pothead.  ever.  but maybe thats cuz im canadian.  who knows.





Radical Marijuana's picture

Again, welcome through the looking glass,

into the Bizarro Mirror World Fun House!!!

Marijuana smokers are thinner, less likely to be obese than non-smokers, according to new study

By Philip Caulfield, September 4, 2011.

People who smoke marijuana regularly are less likely to be obese than non-pot smokers, according to a new study by French researches.

"We found that cannabis users are less likely to be obese than non-users," Dr. Yann Le Strat, French psychiatrist and co-author of a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology told MSNBC. "We were so surprised, we thought we had [made] a mistake.”

Using data from two epidemiologic studies of U.S. adults, researchers found that between 22% to 25% of participants who didn’t smoke pot were obese.

But only between 14% and 17% of those people who admitted to taking a toke at least three times a week were overweight. ...


Some obese pot heads that I know are ones that got that way while in prison.

bankonthebust's picture

The fact that the federal government views marijuana the same as herion is fucking ridiculous.

NotApplicable's picture

"The fact that the federal mafia views marijuana the same as herion is profitable."


Fedaykinx's picture

sooo true.  and what's worse, from a testing point of view, the one "drug" that is probably the least of your worries re: employees using off the job is the one that is easiest to catch in a screening.  cocaine for instance is out of your system in a matter of a couple days (3-4 at the most) while cannibinoids stay detectable for weeks.

EscapingProgress's picture

The fact that my liberty to choose whether or not I put heroin into my own body is restricted by "the law" is fucking ridiculous.

Radical Marijuana's picture

Well, bankonthebust, being "fucking ridiculous" is perfect propaganda, by being such a BIG LIE!

It is BECAUSE hemp is the single best plant on the planet for people that the law asserts that "marijuana is almost as bad as murder."  That works perfectly to drive social polarization, which serves social slavery. These things are NOT accidents, they are malicious evils. The banksters are behind drug prohibitions because they benefit all the way around from doing that. (They actually control the governments, by dominating the funding of politics, and by buying up control over the mass media, and so on and so forth.) The biggest gangsters are the banksters. They skim the cream off of the illegal drug businesses by laundering the black market money. The laws against that are only applied to the smaller players. The biggest banks do it rountinely, in an automated way, while they receive only trivial, token fines when caught. (I believe that the computer programs that were supposed to stop money laundering had deliberate backdoors put in to help facilitate that.)


The drug wars segued from racism and slavery. Drug wars served to develop more sophisticated social slavery systems. Drug wars, which are now mostly against marijuana, provide excuses to build the fascist police state, which is needed to serve the runaway fascist plutocracy juggernaut. Eventually, this will all loop around in worse and worse ways, since the destruction of the rule of law finally destroys those who destroyed it. The war against marijuana is tipping towards psychotic breakdown, just like the larger debt slavery system, that it operates inside, has numbers which are tottering toward debt insanity. However, each step along the way, such as privatizing prisons, make a few wealthier and more powerful, and therefore, more able to corrupt the political processes to serve them.

From a sublime point of view, it is interesting to speculate on the degree of malice aforethought going into driving this kind of runaway social polarization towards violent confrontations. Making millions of people unemployable because they consume cannabis is just another little step in that direction. I tend to believe that the longer term goals are to deliberately develop excuses to impose martial law in America, and that everything for a long time has been designed to accomplish that ...

SheepDog-One's picture

May as well get high and watch the world burn, what else is there to do?

NotApplicable's picture

Masturbate the whole time, of course.

krispkritter's picture

I couldn't get hired at the SEC.  Couldn't type fast enough with one hand...

EscapingProgress's picture

Or get high while you masturbate.

Keeping both hands employed - winning.

Pure Evil's picture

Idle hands do the Devils work.

And, under the Obama regime, evil has been redefined.

azzhatter's picture

Read a book entitled "Methland" about drug abuse in rural america. It'll open your eyes