Owing to a historically low unemployment rate – April, 2018 clocked in at 3.9 percent, the lowest in eighteen years – combined with widespread marijuana legalization – adult-use cannabis is currently allowed in nine states plus Washington, D.C. and medical marijuana is legal in 29 states – some pundits are predicting a rapid decline in workplace drug testing for weed. Last month, AutoNation Inc., the largest auto dealer in the U.S., said it would no longer deny applicants who test positive for marijuana, and, even more surreal, in 2014 James Comey publicly discussed the difficulties in getting world-class hackers to work for the FBI. What if one of those talented young hackers was a secret stoner? “He should go ahead and apply,” the former FBI Director said with a knowing smile.
A low unemployment rate means a smaller pool of applicants and requiring those few prospects to test free of a popular legal substance only further limits the employers’ options. A spate of recent articles suggests that an increasing number of employers will simply walk away from testing the workplace for weed. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to happen.
There are plenty good reasons to stop workplace drug test programs. There always have been. These programs are costly, they don’t work well, they do not indicate impairment, they do create resentment, foster suspicion and more. But never, to my knowledge, has anyone ever suggested that we should stop workplace drug testing for marijuana simply because there’s too much weed out there. Testing for cannabis will not only continue, it will increase. A reasonable person might ask why?
If marijuana is legal, if cannabis is medicine, and if urine tests do not show impairment, then what exactly are they looking for?
Money. Of course.
Amphetamines and opiates disappear from the urine after four days, cocaine maybe five and MDMA and its derivatives are undetectable after a week. THC metabolites uniquely lodge in the fat cells and, depending on the subject’s weight, the quality of the weed and the frequency of its use, the detection window for cannabis can often stretch to thirty days or more.
As to prevalence: Among the estimated 28 million Americans who used an illicit drug during the past month almost 24 million consumed marijuana. That means marijuana is six times more popular than all the other illicit drugs combined – Yay, marijuana! Almost 2 million Americans used cocaine, 700,000 used methamphetamine, and a little over one million Americans used illicit opioids like heroin, opium and fentanyl (and, yes, there are millions more who are addicted to legally-prescribed opioids like OxyContin who get a pass on a workplace Whiz Quiz because their addiction is within the law, not illicit, although that is about to change).
So if the drug test companies only go trolling for the illicit opioids, cocaine and speed those providers would only have a thin, marginally profitable portfolio of four million souls to spy upon each month, souls that were only visible during a narrow detection window of seven days or less. Once marijuana is added to the catch the market waters expand by 24 million stoners, and the window of detection extends from a week to a month. With a much larger consumer base and a much longer detection window, it’s pot that puts the profit in piss.
One market research group based in India recently valued the drug testing market worldwide at approximately $4.4 billion and expects it to reach $6.7 billion by 2025.
Another research group in England took a deeper dive, tagged the so-called “drugs of abuse” test market at $4.8 billion in 2015, and predicts a steady growth beyond $9 billion by 2023.
Whichever predictor is correct – and the $9 billion figure seems to be more credible – it seems sure that the testing market for drugs of abuse is set to flourish in the immediate future.
Those forecasts include testing for weed. The drug test providers will need cannabis in the equation for their projections to come true. Removing cannabis from the common five-panel workplace drug test would let six out seven fish slip from the net. If it came down to it, the drug test companies would provide the other four panels – for opioids, meth, cocaine and PCP – for free just to keep that fifth most profitable panel on the test. Employers like AutoNation and the FBI may reasonably change their policies and hire the pothead regardless (Yay, FBI!) but the drug test companies will continue to market looking for weed. They will price their services to make testing for cannabis the much smarter buy, in the same way a movie theater makes sure you to purchase the large popcorn with your medium Coke. People are sheeple and never more so than when they drink too much soda at Avengers: Infinity War and piss it all out into a specimen cup the next morning at work.
Unfortunately, despite legalization, testing for cannabis at work is going continue.