Rising marijuana use has some rethinking workplace testing

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Capital News Service

LANSING –– American workers are consuming more marijuana –– a lot more, according to a new analysis by Quest Diagnostics, a provider of health diagnostic information services. 

According to the analysis, the rate of positive drug test results rose last year to its highest since 2001, at 4.6%. That’s a 30% increase from the all-time low in 2012. 

Those statistics are giving employers something new to consider.

“Given this (tight) job market, and given the high number of positive drug tests that are out there, many employers are rethinking drug tests altogether,” said Wendy Block, the vice president of business advocacy and member engagement at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. 

As more workers use marijuana, some medical experts are questioning the necessity of workplace drug testing, while business interests still want to reserve the right to test. 

In 2020, one in every five Michigan residents used marijuana, according to a study by Anderson Economic Group for the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association. 

That’s a 75% increase from 2010. 

Along with recreational marijuana, which has been legal in Michigan since 2018, many state residents also use marijuana for medical reasons, said Kevin Boehnke, a research investigator in the Department of Anesthesiology and the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at the University of Michigan. 

“With pain, both as a standalone condition and a symptom of many other different conditions, quite a few people do use cannabis and report that it is effective for them,” said Boehnke, whose research focuses on therapeutic applications of illicit substances. 

According to U-M’s Injury Prevention Center, about 3% of state residents hold a medical marijuana card, nearly all of them for chronic pain. 

For workers who use marijuana in Michigan, there are no laws mandating or prohibiting workplace drug tests, said Mark Osbeck, a law professor at U-M.

When medical marijuana was legalized in Michigan in 2008, a provision was added that may have protected medical users from being fired for a positive drug test because it protected them from being deprived of any rights due to a positive drug test, he said.

But when cases involving that provision ended up in court, that protection didn’t hold, Osbeck said, because there is no state-recognized right to employment.

“There’s no protection because you’re not penalizing anybody for a right they already have,” he 


John Walsh, the president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, said his organization has no issue with marijuana use, recreational or medicinal, but due to the nature of the manufacturing industry, it also supports an employer’s right to drug test.

“​​If employees are drinking or doing drugs, it is dangerous to themselves and dangerous to their fellow workers,” Walsh said. “So it’s an industry that requires diligence.”

The United Auto Workers declined to discuss the topic, saying it doesn’t comment on issues that may be up for collective bargaining. 

Block said the Chamber of Commerce supports an employer’s right to choose whether to drug test employees.

“There are certainly reasons that many employers do pre-employment drug tests or drug tests throughout the course of employment, and a lot of that has to do with federal law,” she said. 

Since marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, federal contractors must prohibit its use in the workplace, for example. 

That would be subject to change if marijuana were legalized at the federal level, Osbeck said. 

In early April, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to decriminalize marijuana. Sponsors included Democratic Reps. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, Daniel Kildee of Flint, Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township and Rashida Tlaib of Detroit.

But Osbeck said the bill’s unlikely to pass in the U.S. Senate. 

Block said many employers are also reconsidering drug tests due to the uncertainty of marijuana test results.

According to Boehnke, a marijuana test can come back positive for up to a month after use. 

He also noted that employees who use other prescribed psychoactive drugs still go to work after taking them. 

“To say that cannabis is so different than those medications strikes me as odd,” he said. “It doesn’t strike me as necessarily the most fair way of approaching things.” 

He said much of the stigma around marijuana use comes from its criminalization, but for those who use marijuana as an effective treatment, they may be a benefit to employers. 

“Then they have somebody whose pain is less distracting so they can focus better on work,” he said.

Boehnke said he sees the stigma around marijuana use falling as state policy changes.

“I think at some point there will be some separation,” he said. “If people don’t want to work with companies that drug test, maybe there will be a voting-with-feet scenario that occurs.”

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