Thanks in part to the widespread legalization of marijuana, so many American workers are testing positive for marijuana (and other drugs) that business owners in the US are being forced to relax and reassess their policies on pre-employment drug screens in order to accommodate workers who, just a few years ago, wouldn't have been welcome in the labor pool.
According to WSJ, of the more than six million urine screens processed through Quest Diagnostics (one of the country’s largest drug-testing laboratories), 3.9% came back positive for marijuana, the highest level in two decades. That represents an 8% increase over the number of positive tests from 2020, and a 50% increase since 2017.
During that time, the number of states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational has increased to18 from eight (plus Washington DC).
Surging rates of marijuana positivity are prompting fewer companies to even bother testing their employees for THC (for those who are unfamiliar, THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that's primarily responsible for its effects) in the first place. And in some states, employers have been legally barred from factoring in marijuana test results into their hiring decisions.
But in states that haven't embraced legal marijuana, this trend is becoming a significant barrier to entry that's having a cascading effect across the labor pool, as one 'expert' quoted by WSJ pointed out.
"We certainly heard from some of our employer customers that they were having difficulty finding qualified workers to pass the drug test..."
Unfortunately, marijuana isn't the only drug that's showing up more frequently in urine screens.
Over the past year, the share of American workers who have tested positive for other drugs has risen 4.6% to the highest level since 2001 (the heyday of the American prescription painkiller crisis), according to Quest.
One employment agency said it has tried to convince some of its clients to ease its policies on positive drug tests for THC (except for jobs where federal regulations require negative drug tests). But this lax attitude has sometimes had unintended consequences.
For example, more workers have become comfortable with showing up to work high, or reeking of marijuana smoke. One recruiter shared a story about one employee being fired after openly hitting their marijuana vape pen at work.
But as the number of job openings continues to outpace the number of workers available to fill them, how much longer until pre-employment drug screens become a thing of the past for most workers.