Employees Are Testing Positive For Cannabis In Higher Numbers Than Ever

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Employees are using cannabis at higher rates than ever before, as workplaces are increasingly running into issues involving the inclusion of cannabis in on-the-job or pre-hire drug testing.

And according to a recent report by Quest Diagnostics, the issue is only going to get worse without changes in companies’ drug-testing policies.

The problem isn’t that more employees are using cannabis on the job.  It’s that the THC from cannabis they used many days before— or even weeks before—will show up in their urine.

Some cities, like Philadelphia, are dealing with the issue by banning pre-employment drug screenings from including cannabis. But people in other places continue to lose their jobs for using cannabis during their off-hours, even when it’s medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor.

RELATED: Any Way You Look At It, the Cannabis Industry Creates More Jobs Every Year

Highest positive results since 2001

In a press release about recent drug test data, Quest Diagnostics reported that positive tests for all drugs had reached their highest point since 2001. They also reported that the current positive rate is 30 percent higher than the all-time low reached from 2010-2012.

Quest based the report on 11 million drug tests involving urine, hair and oral fluid done in 2021.

The positive results for marijuana use reached an all-time high of 3.9 percent in 2021, an 8.3 percent increase over 2020. That finding is based on more than six million urine tests. Quest reported that in the past five years, positivity for marijuana in in the U.S. workforce increased 50 percent.

Of course, that’s easily explained: cannabis is now legal for millions of Americans across the country. And as noted by the Mayo Clinic, THC – the chemical ingredient in marijuana that causes the high – can remain detectable in urine for up to three days after just a single use. It can stay detectable up to 30 days for those who use cannabis daily (which many medical marijuana users do).

RELATED: Illinois Lawmakers Say You Can’t Get Fired for Using Cannabis


Employees must stay aware of laws

Writing about this issue, the Society for Human Resource Management noted that more employers are taking marijuana out of the typical five-panel drug test (the other four are amphetamines, cocaine, opiates and phencyclidine). However, they caution that employees should stay aware of company policies, even in states where cannabis is legal.

State lawmakers across the country are considering bills to provide workplace protections for employees as it relates to marijuana drug testing. But the outcomes of those efforts remain uncertain. Most of them are at the municipal level, such as in Philadelphia or Washington D.C.

In an interesting twist in the Quest findings, the overall positive test rate for all drugs was higher in many states where marijuana (especially recreational marijuana) is not legal. For example, the positive drug test rates for Oklahoma (7 percent), Arkansas (5.8 percent), Louisiana (5.6 percent), Alabama (5.2 percent) and Utah (4.7 percent) were higher than the rates in California (4 percent), New York (4.5 percent), Colorado (4.3 percent) and Washington (4.3 percent).

The national positive drug test rate in 2021 was 4.6 percent.

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