Why Are Employers Dropping Cannabis Drug Testing?

Dr. Langdon M.D.

Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly Langdon M.D.


Millions of people in the United States use marijuana, also known as cannabis, each year despite the federal prohibition of its use, sale, and possession.

But just because it’s illegal to use under federal law doesn’t mean it’s not decriminalized or legalized in certain states.

It’s for this reason, and others, that many employers—including the multinational conglomerate Amazon—have moved to drop cannabis from workplace drug testing panels.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHSM), reasons for dropping workplace cannabis drug testing might include:

  • deciding to ease restrictions for off-duty recreational use or medicinal marijuana use
  • changes in state laws regulating marijuana use, possession, and sales
  • changing social norms around cannabis use

According to SHSM, employers that wish to continue testing and disciplining workers for cannabis use must adhere to applicable state laws.

Which States Have Legalized Marijuana Use?

One of the primary factors that can influence the decision of employers to drop marijuana from workplace drug testing is applicable state laws.

A growing number of U.S. states have moved to either decriminalize—that is, remove criminal penalties for—marijuana use, legalize it, or apply one or the other to medicinal marijuana only.

As of September 2021, marijuana is fully legal for use in the following:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Washington D.C. 
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • *South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington

*Marijuana was fully legalized in South Dakota on November 3, 2020 with majority voter approval of a ballot measure. However, the enactment of its legal status has been stalled due to a pending lawsuit.

States That Have Decriminalized Marijuana

Some states in the U.S. have not fully legalized marijuana, but they have passed legislation, or amended their state constitutions, in order to decriminalize its use, sale, and possession.

States that have *decriminalized marijuana include:

  • Delaware 
  • Georgia (in certain cities/counties)
  • Hawaii
  • Louisiana 
  • Maryland 
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska 
  • New Hampshire 
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania (in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia only)
  • Rhode Island

*Many decriminalization laws across the U.S. have stipulations (e.g. quantity of cannabis that is decriminalized) that vary by state.

States That Have Legalized Medical Marijuana Only

Certain states have legalized marijuana that is used for medicinal purposes—i.e. medical marijuana, or medical cannabis.

Medical marijuana is legal in the following states:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • *South Dakota
  • Utah
  • West Virginia

*The legalization of medical marijuana in South Dakota is yet to be fully enacted.

What Other Factors Can Affect Employers’ Decisions To Test For Cannabis?

State laws aren’t the only factor that might influence an employer’s decision to drop cannabis from its drug testing panel. This can vary by employer, but may be influenced by various factors.

Factors that can influence this choice might include:

  • workplace culture
  • social and cultural norms
  • employer’s personal views on marijuana use
  • drug testing decisions by other employers/companies (i.e. a “ripple effect”)
  • new research on cannabis use and workplace drug testing
  • industry of the employer
  • court decisions and state statutes on cannabis regulation

How Workplace Cannabis Drug Testing Works

Workplace drug testing has traditionally utilized a five-panel screen, which can test individuals for the use of cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, phencyclidine (PCP), and marijuana.

A growing number of employers, however, are removing marijuana from this panel.

How exactly a marijuana test works, as well as its accuracy, detection times, and cutoffs will depend on the type of drug testing method that is used.

Types Of Cannabis Drug Tests

Urine tests are the most common form of drug test used by employers for workplace drug testing.

Cannabis can also be detected by:

  • oral fluid (saliva tests)
  • blood tests
  • hair tests

Marijuana can stay in these specimens for varying times. Drugs like marijuana will typically stay in the blood for the shortest period of time, and remain detectable in hair samples for longer.

Urine drug tests can detect marijuana use for one to five days after last use, or up to several weeks for heavy users. This will depend on frequency of use, amount of THC, and other factors.

Can You Get A False-Positive?

Getting a false-positive result for marijuana use is possible. The likelihood of this occurring will depend on the type of test used, and other substance use.

A false-positive test result for marijuana use may occur if:

  • you take CBD supplements
  • you ingest hemp seeds or hemp oil
  • a urine sample is tampered with or adulterated
  • you take certain medications (e.g. HIV medication, Ibuprofen)
  • you are exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke (although this is unlikely)

Moreover, certain types of drug screening tests, such as the gas chromatography-mass spectrometer (GCMS) test, can tell the difference between cannabis and other substances.

Why Do Employers Test Workers For Drug Use?

Employers might test workers, or job applicants, for a number of reasons.

Legal reasons for conducting an employee drug test include:

  • pre-employment test
  • for-cause and reasonable suspicion testing
  • after a workplace accident
  • after completing a drug rehab program

Any form of workplace testing, however, must comply with applicable local, state, and federal laws for it to be determined a legal action by an employer.

Are There Risks To Dropping Workplace Cannabis Drug Testing?

Over time, attitudes about workplace drug testing have shifted among some, from acceptance of its necessity to concerns about its punitive nature and its effects on one’s employment status.

For people with substance abuse problems, for instance, employment can help promote continued recovery and help prevent drug relapse. 

Employers are not the only entities that can test individuals for drugs. This can also be done by healthcare providers, such as a doctor, or the court or criminal justice system.

When Marijuana Use Becomes A Problem

Although legal or decriminalized in many states, marijuana can—like any other illicit or prescription drug—become a substance of abuse.

Common signs and symptoms of marijuana abuse include:

  • increasing marijuana use over time
  • being unable to cut down on marijuana use
  • psychological addiction to marijuana
  • marijuana drug cravings
  • changes in mental health (e.g. depression, anxiety, paranoia)
  • ongoing nausea and vomiting
  • neglecting friends, family, or other loved ones due to cannabis use
  • decreased work performance as a result of cannabis use or consequences of use
  • withdrawal symptoms with stopped use

Getting Help For Marijuana Abuse

If you’re concerned about a coworker, friend, or loved one who you believe may be abusing marijuana, Bedrock Recovery Center may be able to help.

For more information about marijuana abuse or our treatment programs, call our helpline to speak to a trained staff member today.

  1. DISA Global Solutions — Map of Marijuana Legality by State https://disa.com/map-of-marijuana-legality-by-state
  2. Drug and Alcohol Review — Comparison of cannabinoids in hair with self-reported cannabis consumption in heavy, light and non-cannabis users https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/dar.12412
  3. HR Dive — Why Amazon’s updated marijuana drug testing policy could have ‘ripple effect’
  4. Redwood Toxicology Laboratory — Laboratory Testing Reference Guide https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/Programs/CIP/events/redwood/LAB_Reference_Guide.pdf
  5. Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) — Marijuana and the Workplace: It’s Complicated https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/fall2019/pages/marijuana-and-the-workplace-its-complicated.aspx
  6. Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) — Workplace Drug Testing: Can Employers Still Screen for Marijuana? https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/can-employers-still-test-for-marijuana.aspx
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Drug Testing Resources https://www.samhsa.gov/workplace/resources/drug-testing
  8. U.S. News — South Dakota Residents Still Can’t Buy Legalized Marijuana https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/south-dakota/articles/2021-08-28/south-dakota-residents-still-cant-buy-legalized-marijuana

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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