Should Employers Drug Test For Recreational Marijuana?

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Although still illegal under federal law, more states across the U.S. are legalizing recreational marijuana use. Changes to state drug laws can, among other things, affect which employers can and cannot make employment decisions based on an employee’s marijuana use.

Testing For Recreational Marijuana

A rising number of states across the country have moved to legalize marijuana use, either strictly for medical purposes, or fully through the legalization of both medical and recreational drug use.

Within the workplace, these changes have led some employers to drop marijuana from their five-panel substance abuse screenings, which traditionally test for marijuana, opioids, amphetamines, cocaine, and phencyclidine (PCP).

In other cases, employers may be prohibited by law from making hiring or firing decisions based on a drug test result indicating an employee’s recent recreational marijuana use.

Do Employers Drug Test For Recreational Marijuana?

Employers usually require pre-employment drug testing and may reserve the right to conduct random drug tests.

Under state laws, however, employers in some states are barred from discriminating against or terminating employees who test positive for use of marijuana through any workplace screening.

This doesn’t apply to workplaces in all states where cannabis use is fully legal.

As reported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, in most states, workers can still be fired for using marijuana, also known as “pot,” “weed,” and cannabis, in their free time.

What Factors Can Affect Whether Your Employer Will Test For Marijuana?

At this time, because marijuana is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, the main factor that determines whether your employer will drug test you is your state of residence.

State marijuana laws, and the use of other controlled substances, can vary.

Other factors that can affect this include:

  • your employer
  • workplace-specific drug testing policies
  • your industry
  • workplace policies
  • working for the federal government
  • local laws regarding medical cannabis
  • time of drug use (e.g. in your personal time, during work hours)
  • reasonable suspicion of use

The Role Of Your Industry In Marijuana Drug Testing

Within some industries, employers may feel it is necessary to maintain an alcohol-free and drug-free workplace, or to permit medical use of marijuana only.

Workplace protections, including the right to hire job applicants or fire employees based on a positive marijuana test result, can also be dependent on local or state laws.

Some state laws on marijuana use, for instance, include exceptions for employees who have safety-sensitive positions in the workforce.

Do Employers Still Test You For Marijuana In States Where It Is Legal?

It is important to note that employers may still require pre-employment screenings, or random drug testing for marijuana use, even in states where the drug has been legalized.

This can be dependent not only on state drug laws, but also on employment laws. Not all states where marijuana is legal offer broad employment protections.

This means that if an employee receives a positive drug test, they may be subject to termination.

Some states and municipalities, however, have moved to enhance workplace protections for people who legally use cannabis products. New York City, for example, and the state of Nevada.

In California, employers are now barred from taking adverse action based on a positive test result for marijuana use during a pre-employment drug screening.

How Many States Have Legalized Recreational Cannabis Use?

As of October 2022, marijuana use is fully legalized in 20 states, although specific details of state laws can vary.

States that have legalized recreational marijuana use include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia (Washington D.C.)
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington

But that’s not all. A greater number of states have either decriminalized (but not legalized) marijuana use, or have specifically legalized the use of medical marijuana or CBD products only.

What Are The Risks Of Marijuana Use?

Some of the effects and risks of marijuana use can play a role in whether an employer still tests for or prohibits marijuana use in a worker’s off-duty time, even in states where it’s legal.

In certain industries, an employer may wish to ensure that their employees are not experiencing any physical or cognitive effects that can result from the recreational use of cannabis.

Short-term side effects of recreational marijuana use might include:

  • impaired judgment
  • slower reaction times
  • altered sense of time
  • altered senses (e.g. visual changes)
  • memory impairment
  • difficulty concentrating
  • impaired problem-solving skills

The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, acts on certain brain chemical receptors that can affect brain function and development. Drug effects may set in within 30 minutes to an hour after use.

The intensity of side effects, however, can vary. Factors such as the dose, your tolerance for marijuana, mental health disorders, and other factors can contribute to any adverse effects.

Marijuana Abuse And Employment

While marijuana is not known to be highly addictive, it can become a drug of abuse.

Marijuana abuse, characterized by a lack of control over your drug use, or the use of it despite negative consequences, can make it harder to find or maintain stable employment.

If you or a loved one is abusing marijuana, you’re not alone. Help may be available at a detox center or rehab center near you.

Find Marijuana Abuse Treatment

Overcoming marijuana dependence and addiction is possible with substance abuse treatment.

To find treatment options near you, including free rehab center options, call our helpline to speak with a specialist today.



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