Do Employers Really Need to Give Drug Tests for Pot?

Some months back, at the behest of a former boss, I attempted to register with a work agency. The work was data cleaning at the hospital where previously I was a well-regarded employee. During the physical exam, I had a mandatory drug screen. It came up positive for marijuana and I am now banned from this agency. What is it about my story that is important or germane? I cooked my own goose, deserve no pity, but the experience has had the exemplary effect of clarifying my thoughts regarding the whole subject.

I admit to smoking marijuana. Smoking makes me a calmer, more balanced person. I'm also a fool for getting caught. Time was when I was both a frequent and enthusiastic user; I am now an infrequent, but no less enthusiastic, user. I believe that responsible marijuana use is a benign activity; drug use needs to be distinguished from drug abuse. Consciousness-altering techniques range from prayer and wine to music and dance; evidence shows that humans have used these methods as far back in the history of our species as we can see. (Please note that I am not defending those who would indulge in any substance and then risk harm to others.)

I have a Master's in Public Health (GPA 3.54). I am the mother of three bright, well-adjusted children. I am considered polite, articulate and generous. My house is relatively clean; meals are tasty and nutritious; laundry is dealt with in a timely fashion. My failing, according to some misplaced rules of law, is that I enjoy smoking marijuana a few nights a week after the kids are asleep. I do not drive or go to work after using even minimal amounts of marijuana. I can, however, tell my children about using Prozac, I can drink alcohol in front of them, I could even neglect them to play computer solitaire, but hike or play chess with marijuana in my system and I'm open to criminal prosecution.

My gripe? To start, the fealty to drug testing is impractical and may prove untenable. We live in a society that proclaims its citizens "innocent until proven guilty." Yet we have accepted routine drug testing for the sake of political and moral expediency. Who is being protected? Other substances are far more insidious; the vodka someone imbibes every morning would not disqualify them for a job, nor would two packs of cigarettes daily and the ensuing chronic bronchitis. Both however, will interfere with job performance. We assume responsible usage until there are signs of gross negligence; shouldn't marijuana be held to the same standards? Testing for marijuana is particularly invidious, the drug stays in the system longer than other drugs, and a positive test could target one as a drug user, regardless of actual usage.

Serious users, of which I have known a few, are already out of the mainstream; certainly they are not applying for jobs in corporate hospitals.

State initiatives for the decriminalization of marijuana are gaining ground. Drug testing, patchwork laws and changing public opinion open a Pandora's box of regulation. The recent declaration from the Obama administration that it will no longer prosecute medical marijuana outlets, the groundswell of decriminalization efforts, and the acceptance and tolerance toward marijuana use show that the tide is turning on public attitude regarding recreational use of marijuana. It has become obvious that recreational use of marijuana is as harmless as responsible alcohol use. The efficacy of marijuana for certain ailments is becoming established. Former police officers, city officials, even corrections officers are all coming forward in favor of a new paradigm. Surely it is time to revisit a system that protects few and harms many.

*Kelly McGannahan is a pseudonym. The author would be proud to defend her essay; but for obvious reasons, can not.

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