Colorado made history when voters passed Amendment 64 in November 2012, legalizing recreational cannabis use and possession in the Centennial State. The legal sale of recreational marijuana began in January 2014. In the years since, many people have wondered how legalized marijuana has truly impacted Colorado communities. Although you may hear different answers from different people, and we’re still learning more about the consequences all the time, today we’re exploring the effects of the legalization of cannabis on drug testing in Colorado.
Drug Testing in Colorado
Companies Still Conduct Drug Tests
As we’ve discussed in a previous blog post, employers are currently allowed to drug test employees for marijuana use in all states, even those that have legalized recreational and/or medical marijuana. The initiative to legalize marijuana in Colorado even specifically stated that workplace policies involving drug testing in Colorado would not be affected. This was done to please business owners, who may have campaigned against legalization otherwise (source).
So how many workplaces are still drug testing in Colorado? According to a recent study conducted by Mountain States Employers Council, nearly 70 percent of businesses in Colorado are still drug testing employees. In addition, 4 percent of organizations have relaxed their marijuana-related drug policies, and 3 percent have removed marijuana from their drug panel when testing employees. About 7 percent of businesses, however, have made their drug policies stricter since the passage of Amendment 64 (source).
By drug testing, employers may mitigate some of the adverse effects caused by employees who use and abuse drugs, including decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and heightened health and safety risks. Employers may legally fire employees who test positive for marijuana use. They cannot, however, discriminate against employees who use medical marijuana prescribed by a physician.
Factors Involved in Deciding Whether to Drug Test
Companies must consider many factors when deciding whether or not to drug test. For example, an article in the Greeley Tribune cited two extreme examples of employers in Colorado. The first, an owner of a pot shop, actually encourages his employees to use marijuana so that they can better assist customers by describing products’ effects. The second, a manager of an iron and metal workshop, drug tests employees for safety purposes, as his employees operate heavy, dangerous machinery. Employers also consider costs, job responsibilities, health ramifications, potential damage to equipment, other states’ laws (if the company owns locations in other states), the need to fill jobs quickly, and more.
The Tight Labor Market and Zero-Tolerance Policies
Some employers who would prefer a zero-tolerance approach to drug use are choosing to loosen their policies. The labor market is so tight, they may not be able to afford to refuse to hire someone (or to fire an employee) for using marijuana while off duty (source). In Colorado, as of July 8, 2017, the unemployment rate was just 2.3 percent – the lowest in the nation and the lowest in Colorado since the state began tracking in the 1970s. With so few people lacking a job, it can be hard to locate dependable and talented workers. Although employers still view testing positive for other drugs, like cocaine and heroin, as automatically disqualifying, some employers in Colorado are giving employees leeway with cannabis.
Past Drug Use Can Influence Results
One major issue with drug testing for marijuana is that the drug remains in a person’s body for weeks after use. So even if an employee uses marijuana during their leisure time on an off-duty day, they could be terminated if a drug test detects the drug in their system two weeks later. Whereas a person’s level of drunkenness can be obtained instantly with a breathalyzer, marijuana use can only be detected through a drug test, which takes more time.
Curtis Graves, a staff attorney for the Mountain States Employers Council, believes that this will not change unless several things occur. First, the federal government will need to legalize marijuana. Next, Colorado could pass a statute to protect employees who use marijuana. Finally, an instantaneous test, like a Breathalyzer that checked for present impairment due to marijuana, could also be very influential (source).
Federal Law Trumps State Law
On the federal level, marijuana is still illegal and classified as a Schedule I drug (the most tightly restricted category). Thus, any employees in Colorado working safety-sensitive positions under the federal government are required to undergo drug testing. This includes employees working in transportation, aviation, the Department of Defense, and others.
Whether your company is located in a state with legalized marijuana or not, you can create and implement a drug testing program. If you’re ready to get started, contact Tomo Drug Testing. Based in Springfield (MO), St. Louis (MO), Kansas City (MO), Indianapolis (IN), and Evansville (IN), we offer customized solutions to make drug testing simple, and our nationwide network of clinics and providers allows Tomo Drug Testing to be available anytime, anywhere. For a free needs analysis, give us a call today at 1-888-379-7697 or contact us online. We would be happy to help!