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Opinion: Lawmakers need to address Maryland’s ineffective and discriminatory cannabis drug testing policies too

As Maryland lawmakers write rules for a legalized cannabis industry, they should also re-evaluate Maryland’s “antiquated and discriminatory” policies for cannabis drug testing by employers, an advocate argues. photo by Shi.

By Paul Armentano

The writer is a Maryland resident and deputy director of NORML — the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Voters in November demanded lawmakers rethink the Free State’s cannabis policies. Lawmakers should also re-evaluate Maryland’s antiquated and discriminatory cannabis drug testing policies.

With adult-use legalization around the corner, this is the ideal time for legislators to overhaul these unnecessarily punitive policies that sanction employees who consume cannabis while away from their jobs.

Policies that mandate would-be hires and employees to undergo urine screens for past cannabis exposure are invasive and ineffective. They neither identify workers who may be under the influence nor do they contribute to a safe work environment.

Conventional urinalysis tests, even when confirmed, only identify the presence of inert drug metabolites — non-psychoactive by-products that linger in the body’s blood and urine well after a substance’s mood-altering effects have subsided. That is why the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledges: “A positive test result, even when confirmed, only indicates that a particular substance is present in the test subject’s body tissue. It does not indicate abuse or addiction; recency, frequency, or amount of use; or impairment.”

A positive test result for carboxy THC, marijuana’s primary metabolite, provides little if any substantive information to employers. That is because carboxy THC, unlike many other drug metabolites, is fat-soluble. Therefore, it may remain detectable in urine for days, weeks or, in some cases, months after a person has ceased using cannabis. Most other common drug metabolites are water soluble and are undetectable within hours after ingestion.

In short, a positive cannabis test result does not provide any definitive information regarding an employee’s frequency of cannabis use, when they last consumed it, or whether they were under the influence of the substance at the time the drug screening was administered.

Aside from these practical limitations, there are larger philosophical questions raised by random workplace cannabis testing. Studies indicate that employees who consume cannabis during their off hours are little different from their peers. Their workplace performance seldom differs from their co-workers, many of whom consume alcohol, and they do not pose an increased safety risk. (According to an exhaustive review by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, “There is no evidence to support a statistical association between cannabis use and occupational accidents or injuries.”) This begs the question: Why are we okay with policies that single these people out and discriminate against them?

Fortunately, in a growing number of jurisdictions, lawmakers are doing away these outdated and discriminatory policies. Several state governments, including California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York — as well as major corporations like Amazon, have amended their rules so that most public and private employees are no longer terminated from their jobs solely because of a positive drug test for the presence of THC metabolites. Maryland lawmakers should follow suit and amend workplace cannabis testing regulations in accordance with its rapidly changing cultural and state-legal status.

Those who consume alcohol legally and responsibly while away from their jobs do not suffer sanctions from their employers unless their work performance is adversely impacted. Those who legally consume cannabis should be held to a similar standard.


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Opinion: Lawmakers need to address Maryland’s ineffective and discriminatory cannabis drug testing policies too