Don't Shave Your Head Yet


For occasional marijuana users who have always managed to pass pre-employment drug tests by the sophisticated strategy of not smoking pot for a few weeks before handing over their urine, the prospect of widespread hair analysis is worrisome. Unlike urine testing, which stops finding traces of marijuana, even in heavy users, after a month or so, hair testing potentially can reveal a drug use history going back months or even years, depending on how long the hair has been growing. But NORML reports that a study to be published by Forensic Science International offers new hope to weekend pot smokers, finding that hair testing fails to detect consumption of one to five joints per week almost half the time. For daily smokers, the detection rate was 85 percent. Even the 1 in 2 chance of being outed as a pot smoker could be daunting to job applicants, of course, but the high error rate may discourage employers from using hair testing (which is substantially more expensive) to begin with. A few years ago in Reason, I tried to figure out why employers do drug testing at all.

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  1. Jacob Sullum,

    I thought pre-employment drug screening was down and that random drug testing was rare outside certain industries?

  2. If companies used a drug test that would tell if the employee was on drugs at work, I would not have much of a problem. I am outright against any test to determine what you do after work.

  3. What ever happened to judging people on the merits of their performance and accomplishments? For all they know, I could be chugging a 5th of ‘shine every night…but if I still come in to work and kick ass, whose business is it?

  4. Any idiot employer who would not give you a job for smoking a joint 3 months ago is not worth working for.

  5. It’s all about making us all part of law enforcement. Whether it’s making employers track your drug use or making banks spy on you, it’s all the same.

  6. The factory that I work at tests ALL parties involved in any industrial accident. So when there was a fire in the duct work and several employees showed up at the nurse complaining of smoke/fume exposure, they got to pee in a cup for their trouble. Testing while usually well intended most often winds getting abused. For a REAL glimpse of questionable testing gone awry… check out pro cycling.

  7. I am a long-haired hippy. Well, minus the hippy part. I have 5-10 years worth of history on my head. That’d be a fun court case.

  8. For transportation workers, it’s required by federal law. It’s also a hassle for employers and few of them will go to any extra effort unless someone makes them. Why does Wal-Mart do it? God only knows…something about being creepy and controlling, I guess.

    I applied at Menards once and was astonished to be handed a psychological evaluation form. I was seventeen and wanted to stock shelves. I wrote on it that I like to start fires and didn’t get a callback, which didn’t bother me one little bit.

  9. That so many people are willing to piss in a bottle without complaining about it shows that there is something wrong with America. It’s demeaning and degrading, and people just go along with the program. Now it’s accepted as normal. I’m totally disgusted with all this subservience to authority, too many of my fellow citizens are spineless cowards. The War on Drugs is the worst thing to ever happen to this country in my lifetime. We’re overdue for a revolution.

  10. Perhaps we need something like Human Dignity and Civil Liberties Insurance. If your boss comes to you asking to pee in a cup for no good reason, or take down the offensive quote on your office door, or reveal the sources of your newspaper story, and you’re afraid to tell your boss to go to hell because you won’t be able to pay you’re mortgage, the insurance company would step in with lawyers and cash to tide you over while you’re unemployed.

    [attempt #9]

  11. The U.S Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in “Chandler v. Miller” (1997) that it is unconstitutional for elected public officials to be tested for drugs.

    Most people aren’t aware of that court case.

  12. Randy:

    By the power invested in me, by me, I now declare the Supreme Court to be the most destructive branch of the Criminal Triad that rules us. Where does it say in the Constitution that we can’t drug test the crime bosses? Why doesn’t that protecting extend to me? WTF? AARRGGGHHH!!! One more Supreme Court ruling like this and I swear I’m gonna have a stroke.

  13. Why does Wal-Mart do it? God only knows…something about being creepy and controlling, I guess.

    It’s my impression that companies drug-test purely for public relations purposes – why else does every shitty chain store proudly display their “We don’t do drugs!” signs to the public?

  14. I work at a national chain restaurant whose official policy is “we don’t test when we hire you, and we won’t test you unless you give us reason,” reason being coming to work fucked up.

    Is it a coincidence that most of the people who work there (myself included) are stoners? Hell, one of my co-workers just hooked me up with a half-ounce the other day. I was having a good talk about various qualities of acid available in the area with the store manager last night while we were cleaning the kitchen. But surprise, surprise, we do plenty of business–hell, we had a line out the door last night, and it stayed that way for hours.

    God I wish people would stop being ignorant assholes about marijuana. I’ve donated cash to Question 7 in Nevada, and I’m hoping that and Colorado set off a chain reaction.

  15. “Hell, we had a line out the door last night, and it stayed that way for hours.”

    Was that the line of customers, or the line of stoner employees sneaking out the back door to get high?

  16. I’m glad I’m self-employed.

    Although, if I ever have to get a time-clock-punching job, I have a response ready to use:

    “I’ll only give you a urine sample if it’s for a taste test.”

    BTW, a friend of mine applied for a job at a liquor-store chain here in Springfield, Missouri; they demanded a drug test. To sell a drug. He did point out the irony.

  17. Shave your head? Why wouldn’t they just pluck an eyebrow?

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