- America’s relationship regarding cannabis has evolved, making it legal in many states for medical and creational purposes.
- Many companies have ceased drug testing workers or adjusted their policies regarding cannabis.
- Talented workers are still being excluded from the job market in many areas due to draconian policies and outdated methods of screening candidates.
America’s Uneasy Relationship with Substance Use
In the United States, the stigma surrounding cannabis usage has largely lifted. Recreational use of cannabis is entirely legal in 18 states, and medicinal cannabis is likewise fully legal in 36 states. As time goes on, it’s expected that more states and countries will follow.
When drugs are criminalized –at least in the United States– the criteria usually involve whether the substance is safe and whether it has medical applications. At this point, there is ample research showing that cannabis is mostly safe (barring any genetic predispositions to psychosis or schizophrenia), and it has a wide variety of medical applications.
Despite these findings, legalization will continue to be a thorny topic of debate.
America has a strange relationship with substance use, and its $1 trillion ‘War on Drugs’ has miserably failed to reduce substance use, addiction rates, and deaths. Instead, America leads the world in all these categories and is the largest consumer of illegal drugs.
Let us also not ignore the fact that the “War on Drugs” has contributed to the land of the free’s embarrassing legacy of mass incarceration — America locks up more people per capita than any other country. Many of the estimated 2.3 million people behind bars in the U.S. are nonviolent offenders – or awaiting trial in county and city jails, often because they are poor and cannot pay bail.
Cannabis and the Question of Cognitive Impairment
Drug tests have been the standard procedure for many large companies for decades. Obviously, employees whose job entails operating heavy machinery – or flying large groups of passengers across the country at 39,000 feet – will thankfully continue to be screened for drug use and intoxication for years to come.
Now, back to the cannabis question.
The research on cannabis’ impact on job performance suggests that regular cannabis users are perfectly capable of holding a job and excelling in their work performance. According to Columbia University neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart’s research, there’s no difference in cognitive ability between non-smokers and chronic cannabis smokers.
Regular smokers seem to have better cognitive performance than infrequent smokers, however. This may relate to the body’s natural tolerance response, and the same occurs for regular drinkers of alcohol.
Cannabis users appear to have no cognitive impairment due to their usage. In light of these findings, is it still worth it to drug test for cannabis? Clearly not. Drug testing is costly —both financially and time-wise— and often negates the work-related experience of applicants for no good reason.
Cannabis and the future of work
Many companies have already recognized this and have ceased drug testing for cannabis. However, there’s another factor that’s coming into play, and it is largely a result of the major changes in work modalities we’ve seen over the past two years.
According to a study surveying 1001 remote employees from September 2021, roughly 15 percent of workers reported working under the influence of marijuana. Of that 15 percent, 52.9 reported that it reduced their stress levels, 51.1 percent reported that it improved their creativity, and 42.6 percent reported that it improved their productivity.
Interestingly, while the percentage of remote workers who reported working high increased, during the pandemic the percentage actual decreased:
“Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, of the 40.6% of respondents who have worked from home while under the influence of marijuana, most did not continue this practice during the pandemic. More than 63% of respondents answered “no,” and 36.8% answered “yes” to the question of whether they got high at work from home during the pandemic. The fact that social isolation may cause remote employees to be held more directly accountable by their family in addition to their co-workers and managers may at least partially explain this change.” – Americanmarijuana.org
Thus, in some sense, working from home has reduced the use of cannabis while on the job –and drugs in general. It seems that being closer to one’s family forces a greater amount of accountability towards activities that require responsibility, such as work.
Should I use cannabis on the job?
This recent research raises important questions about the relationship between cannabis and work. Some might look at that survey and take away the idea that not only is it okay to get high at work, but it should be encouraged.
However, that would be a faulty assumption. Even though some workers found it to be beneficial, this percentage is far too small to yet endorse the recreational use of cannabis on the job. In fact, there are more reasons not to get high on the job than there are to toke-up beforehand or during your break.
Fifteen percent is not nearly high enough to endorse a prescriptive suggestion to use marijuana while at work. Not to mention that only roughly half of that 15 percent mentioned any positive work-related benefits associated with the use of cannabis at work. It would be erroneous and irresponsible to suggest that people get high at work on the basis of less than 10 percent of the workforce’s opinion.
For one thing, in many jobs, employers simply can’t afford to have anyone’s state-of-consciousness altered. For instance, jobs that require you to drive or operate other heavy machinery. Indeed, even though marijuana is no more legal than ever, even in legal states, it is illegal to smoke and operate heavy machinery. Employers cannot afford such a liability.
If your reason behind smoking and working is simply to get high on the job, you should probably just wait until you’ve finished work or have an off day to smoke. Is it worth your livelihood?
On the other hand, however, we should not simply suggest that there are zero instances where cannabis usage is appropriate in work settings. Medicinal cannabis –which, when used as prescribed, will not cause any psychoactive effects (i.e., it doesn’t get you high) — and may actually have some important occupational applications hitherto ignored or outright shunned due to drug-related stigma.
More specifically, medical cannabis treats various illnesses that can be so debilitating as to put patients out of work. When these illnesses are treated using cannabis, users can return to work. In order for this to work, however, there must be a stipulation for those who use medical cannabis to be capable of doing so on the job.
Now, does this mean medical users should be getting high on the job? No. And with therapeutic dosages, this will not be a problem for medical marijuana patients.
Specific examples of improvements in work outcomes and the use of medical marijuana are encouraging. For instance, Johns Hopkins University showed that the legalization of medical marijuana is highly correlated with greater job retention among older workers. This is likely because older workers tend to have work-limiting conditions that cannabis treats, therein making them more effective and happy workers.
For workers who require the use of medical marijuana to effectively do their job, it’s especially unfortunate that in states where medicinal cannabis is legal, some employers will still refuse to hire someone on the basis of a positive cannabis drug test.
There ought to be a stipulation in place exempting these workers from such tests. And while non-medical users shouldn’t use cannabis on the job, they, too, should not be drug tested. When all of the evidence is now pointing in the direction that cannabis is safe and medically applicable, employers who still test for it are truly falling behind what can only be called “reality.”
Nonetheless, employers should be on the lookout for employees who appear under the influence at work. Especially in workplaces where heavy machinery is involved, paying attention to signs could be a matter of life or death. While we should not drug test for cannabis, it’s more likely than not that getting high at work will diminish your work performance –and worse, if you’re caught, it will ruin your reputation and livelihood.