Drug Policy

The Specter of Productive Pot Smokers

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According to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 8 percent of full-time workers report that they have used an illegal drug, typically marijuana, in the previous month. The finding, based on 2002–2004 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, is not at all surprising, since this is the same as the percentage of the overall population 12 and older that reports past-month use of illegal drugs. Well, I suppose it may come as a surprise to people who believe illegal drug users are inherently unemployable. But there's no reason to assume that someone who admits to smoking pot in the last month has a drug problem, let alone a drug problem that affects his ability to work. In an interview with A.P., Anne Skinstad, a psychologist who directs the Prairielands Addiction Technology Transfer Center at the University of Iowa, nevertheless "called the survey's results 'very worrisome' because there are fewer treatment programs than there used to be to assist employees and employers with a dependence on drugs." To her credit, she added:

I used to train supervisors to detect chronic use and intervene as early as possible, and that is a very good, constructive way rather than firing people. Some employers want drug testing. I'm not sure that's the way I would like to go. What I think I would like to focus on is employee performance.

Sadly, this is almost a revolutionary concept at companies that have adopted drug testing (usually pre-employment screening) as a way of showing they are good corporate citizens, complying with regulations, or qualifying for government contracts. The NSDUH data indicate that 49 percent of employees work for companies that do some sort of drug testing, the same as the percentage in similar surveys that SAMSHA did a decade ago. Here is my 2002 reason feature story on the subject, in which I argue that the disparity between employers' policies regarding alcohol (which focus on drinking that affects job performance) and their policies regarding other drugs (which demand complete abstinence) is almost entirely a result of the government's similarly puzzling pharmacological distinctions.

NEXT: Breaking Through the Muzzle

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  1. The fact that I would have to piss in a cup to man a register at Taco Bell or Wal-Mart but I’m required to go out and get smashed or do coke with people to sign hundred thousand dollar insurance contracts is one of life’s little mysteries. Well, it’s not much of a mystery if you think drug policy is about keeping poor people under your thumb, but it makes the same amount of sense

  2. I used to train supervisors to detect chronic use

    That is the most awesomest double entendre ever.

  3. The company that employs me (large software company) does not test for drug use either at the time of application for a job or after employment is offered and secured. In a company run management training program I was instructed, during a session on the company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), to focus my attention on the workplace behavior and performance of the employees that report to me. If I suspected (or knew of) drug/alcohol abuse, or any other aberrant behavior that affected performance I am to refer the employee to the EAP program, no questions asked. This program is setup to deal with substance abuse as well as any other life situations that might be affecting employee job performance (divorce, death in the family, psychological problems, etc).

  4. It seems incredibly pointless to take a poll where you ask people if they’ve committed a crime in the last month. I’m guessing a similar poll would reveal that America has no child molesters.

  5. steves that sounds like a good program, and cheers to it for regnizing that non substance-related issues can affect eployees as much or more than drugs

  6. I have an acquaintance who, as far as I can tell, gets stoned every night and has been smoking pot for at least 20 years. This person recently won a pulitzer prize.

  7. I’m sure the amount of workers that had used alcohol would be in the majority.It is assumed those people only drink off work while drugs are used every waking moment.Plus,there are so many substances that can cause false positives.Also many folks are on powerful mindaltering drugs for depression and anxiaty such as paxil,prosac,xanax,and adavan.They are taking these daily are considered a ‘good’ addiction.Some employers are screening for tobacoo use to lower health care cost.Where does this end?

  8. is there any government-regulated industry that requires drug tests for all its employees? I think any DOT-related jobs requires testing, and any job in the securities industry as well. Any others?

  9. Since when does being employed imply that you are productive? I’d say the existence of Hit and Run provides proof to that lie…

  10. “What I think I would like to focus on is employee performance.”

    Isn’t that the most important consideration? I have said all along that the drug test is the new way of asking, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

    This is because of the new improved culture war ™, in the old days it was those godless commies, now it’s those dirty pot smoking hippies. IMHO the people that are on board with drug testing are those who were not very popular in school and didn’t get any attention from the opposite sex.

  11. LEGALIZE IT

  12. If everyone was ramdonly drug tested…at every job…and faced termination for testing positive…and mutiple positives would land one in jail for a long time…the drug problem in America would go away.

  13. It seems incredibly pointless to take a poll where you ask people if they’ve committed a crime in the last month. I’m guessing a similar poll would reveal that America has no child molesters.

    This marks the first time I’ve agreed with Dan.

  14. It seems incredibly pointless to take a poll where you ask people if they’ve committed a crime in the last month. I’m guessing a similar poll would reveal that America has no child molesters.

    Yeah, totally. Most polls are extremly suspect in themselves… polling is definitly not a science by any means. But then you compound it by saying: “Yeah, just tell us if you did anything that can get you put in jail or fired from your job in the last month!”. Why are we expected to consider this kind of game to be “scientific”?

    If everyone was ramdonly drug tested…at every job…and faced termination for testing positive…and mutiple positives would land one in jail for a long time…the drug problem in America would go away.

    Absolutly not. There is no way that any test could detect the presence of every intoxicating substance. Is your test going to detect people huffing glue? Detect people eating Morning Glory seeds? There are millions of distinct substances that can get people high, people would just switch their drug of choice.

    Of course, besides all the drug users, you will also end up imprisoning all the people who enjoy poppy seed bagels! The more drugs you test for, the more false positives you have. When millions of people who don’t do drugs are put in prison, I would say there would be mass outrage.

  15. Alice,if everyone was subject to unlimited search on the street and at home crime would go away.Are you Really the ignorant.

  16. It seems incredibly pointless to take a poll where you ask people if they’ve committed a crime in the last month. I’m guessing a similar poll would reveal that America has no child molesters.

    This marks the first time I’ve agreed with Dan.

    Im sorry what is it you are saying and what are you agreeing with?

    Are you saying that because of the stigma and potential penalties associated with drug use the actual percentage of employed people who have used drugs in the past month and are still productive members of society is actually a lot higher the the 8% indicated by this poll? If so what the hell is your point?

  17. Michael Pack…Yes…and probably yes.

    Societies like Synapore have UNLIMITED search of body/home/etc. They have a very very small drug problem. In this country, only blacks and latinos are regularly searched (usually during traffic stops) for narcotics. Ask any State Trooper (regardless of the Trooper’s colour). They r more likely 2 find drugs on a minority youth…than a 40 white man.

    I know the drug runners use this to their advantage…They hire white women in mini vans with and kids to traffic drugs on our highways…and hire black kids to drive close. You can COUNT on the TROOPER ignoring the mom….THAT’s why u should do EVEYONE…or noone at all

  18. “If everyone was ramdomly drug tested…at every job…and faced termination for testing positive…and multiple positives would land one in jail for a long time…the drug problem in America would go away.”

    America doesn’t have a drug problem, some individuals do, perhaps, but not America.

  19. Yes I agree too many steves

    But, a group of people in this country are unfairly targeted for this Non-Problem.

    I believe if everybody was embarrased, exposred, and punished…it would STOP. Or at least I hope it would.

  20. Hmm. I have to agree with work performance as the only relevant issue. Six months ago we had one of our departments play pee in the cup. We fired a supervisor and the most experienced worker on the shift. There were no issues with job performance, they just came up hot on the whiz quiz.

    Fast forward to now. We’re in the final stages of a multi-million dollar contract. We have no one qualified to our internal procedures to perform repair work. Why? We fired both of them! I have two departments running around in a tizzy trying to get somebody, anybody, qualified to do the repair work the two guys we fired could have done in their sleep. Or, more appropriately, could have done half-baked.

    Yay for drug policies! I eagerly await the project completion meeting so we can discuss how much money firing the two potheads cost us.

  21. The commitment to keeping pot on the prohibited substances list, only goes to show how fundamentally wrong headed the whole WOD is. The lengths they’ve gone to exaggerate the dangers of MJ are beyond the pale.

  22. Are there any employers who drug-test yet ignore, or better yet don’t screen for, the presence of cannabis metabolites? Would anyone here feel better about taking a piss test if MJ were omitted from it? Just pollin’.

  23. Are there any employers who drug-test yet ignore, or better yet don’t screen for, the presence of cannabis metabolites?

    There are plenty of employers who ignore (or just choose not to test for) cannabis. It’s actually a form of corruption. They have a zero tolerance policy, but they don’t enforce it uniformly. When someone productive gets popped they’ll test for heroine and angel dust, but when they test someone they want to get rid of they’ll test for pot. Then they can point to the results and not have to provide any other justification (I think you loose your unemployment too).

    Where I work, they test for pot but the employee handbook lists the allowable thresholds. I figured I’d have to smoke every day for a week before I came up positive.

  24. I work at least 40 hours a week. The other 128 are none of my company’s, or our government’s, business.

    Long ago I decided that I would simply not apply anywhere that did drug testing. I’m proud that I have never peed for any employer, even if has at times been difficult economically.

    @Alice Bowie – I think you are a troll but in case you are serious – why don’t you worry about yourself and not what other people do? Why do you want to send people to jail for so little? Pardon my french, but you seem like one intolerant ass. But maybe it would be good if everyone who smoked pot were exposed. Maybe we wouldn’t turn out to be the minority we are portrayed as. Then, since the economy would be wrecked with so many of us in jail, our children seized by the state to be raised as foster parents (who hopefully aren’t evil terroristic potheads themselves), our nation could take a good look around at all of their friends, family and neighbors in jail and realize that maybe prohibition is a damn dumb idea.

  25. Alice-Singapore!!!The land of the lash.You must be a troll,you can’t be taken seriously.

  26. Well… I don’t know what a troll is…but I am be devils advocate on this one.. I don’t believe that anyone should b put in jail for a plant, a powder, or a pill.

    But like the Warren said…and if I can para-phrase…this policy is used arbitrarily…and god forbid u r a member of a group that the government wants to silence.

    They did this in NYC years back. Guiliani had over 400,000 potsmokers in NYC arrested EVERY YEAR during his reign of terror. And as a result, many of these people (after paying a $25 fine) were denied financial aid, jobs, insurance, etc. AND U KNOW WHO was targeted….

  27. I love

  28. Also many folks are on powerful mindaltering drugs for depression and anxiaty such as paxil,prosac,xanax,and adavan.They are taking these daily are considered a ‘good’ addiction.

    Although Xanax and Ativan may cause cognitive dulling, most antidepressants don’t for most people. Also, what many people who have never taken antidepressants don’t understand is that, when they work, they simply relieve depression; they don’t create a sense of euphoria.

    I’ve been on various antidepressants over the years, and I used to smoke pot regularly. Antidepressants have allowed me to live a basically normal life (including normal periods of sadness and disappointment). There is no way I could accomplish anything requiring more than about 30 seconds of focus while I was stoned.

    That said, there is no defensible reason why adults should not be able to decide what to do with their own bodies and what kind of mental states to induce.

  29. The way we do drug testing makes for some funky socio-economic wrinkles. In order to get a job at most anyplace that pays decent, it is necessary to pass a piss test. After that, the tests are (said to be) random, with mandatory tests for anyone reporting an injury.

    The way the test works, alcoholics can pass a urinalysis after going 2 days without booze, coke and meth heads need 4 days off the ready line to pass muster, heroin takes a week to detox for a test

    marijuana? Depending on usage levels, It can take over a month to test clean.

    An educated pal of mine pissed for a job at the county coroner’s office a full 65 days after ending an extensive 5 year experiment with marijuana. He still failed their UA. Broke his heart, it did. I bet the coroner’s office used a higher quality test than the local meatpacking plant does.

    Speaking of the meatpacking plant, my brother had a job there on the kill line. Once, he slipped and stabbed himself in the leg. Having smoked no small amount of pot at a wedding reception the weekend before, he slunk off to the restroom and applied a field dressing to the gash before telling his foreman he was suffering from gastrointestinal distress and needed to leave, pronto. He then went to the hospital, got 8 stitches, and paid for them out of pocket.

  30. That’ll keep costs down

  31. Most company do Enzime TESTS like the ones available at CVS. Those will ONLY detect 50 nanograms of THC. Costs about $6 per test (if u buy the packs in bulk). There’s a process called the GAS Chromatography that can detect 5 nanograms. That costs about $150.00

    Most companies use the Enzime Test. Many people that take these tests use substitution. Sometimes even use Mountain Dew microwaved.

  32. I thank T for providing the following incident. The bold emphasis in the quote are mine

    Hmm. I have to agree with work performance as the only relevant issue. Six months ago we had one of our departments play pee in the cup. We fired a supervisor and the most experienced worker on the shift. There were no issues with job performance, they just came up hot on the whiz quiz.

    Fast forward to now. We’re in the final stages of a multi-million dollar contract. We have no one qualified to our internal procedures to perform repair work. Why? We fired both of them! I have two departments running around in a tizzy trying to get somebody, anybody, qualified to do the repair work the two guys we fired could have done in their sleep. Or, more appropriately, could have done half-baked.

    Yay for drug policies! I eagerly await the project completion meeting so we can discuss how much money firing the two potheads cost us.

    T, I would urge you not to wait until the project completion meeting to point out how stupid and counterproductive the drug testing program is. Rub the responsible department (human resources?) nose in the disaster they have caused while it is ongoing

    Send out an email suggesting that the two fired employees be hired back as permanent contractors to do the work. If this is not politically feasible an anonymous email might be appropriate.

    Provide an estimate in the email of how much firing those two are costing the company on a daily basis because of the project delay.

    Use the project completion meeting to end the drug testing program and move to a work performance evaluation only. Use the studies that show that companies that don’t do drug testing are more productive to support the argument.

    Apologies for suggesting something for you to do on the job. I just find drug testing programs to be such centers of criminal stupidity I could not help myself.

    Who knows it might provide some cheap entertainment and interesting conversations around the water cooler.

  33. “””Would anyone here feel better about taking a piss test if MJ were omitted from it? Just pollin’.””””

    Not I. If they had a drug test that could test people for use while they were on the job, and not on their own time, I would be for that. I don’t think any job has any right to say what you do when your off the clock.

  34. These tests are a joke anyway. I got a job at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (yeah, where Jonas Salk cured polio) and passed a drug test from their facilities on 20-hours notice.

    This is quite a feat for a daily smoker, and if you want to know how to, check NORML’s website.

    Anyway, I think drug tests/cheating them will develop the same relationship as MPH radars and radar detectors.

    P.S. I was fired, at age 24, a month later because they discovered an underage drinking ticket I got when I was 19. Even if I wanted to repeat the crime, I couldn’t.

    Facists…

  35. I have never used MJ,my drugs off choice being a good stout[or three] and a cigar.I am firmly againt testing.I believe every sliver of liberty taken away makes it eaiser to take that much more.Look at the dui laws and roadblocks,the patriot act and any numerous law for the childern.

  36. People wouldn’t be able to work in NYC without the drugs. They could do it 6 months, tops.

  37. Alice Bowie Knife hits upon a real issue, the seperate systems of justice in the USA. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that many poor folks have been in the shoes of the Duke Lacrosse players. But didn’t have the quality of defense.
    Imagine what our system of justice would be like if everyone was represented by a randomly chosen defense lawyer.
    Or if narcs paid the same attention to stock brokers and their blow habits as they do street kids and theirs.
    I suspect there would be much more gentleness in our justice.

  38. VANYA testifies: I have an acquaintance who, as far as I can tell, gets stoned every night and has been smoking pot for at least 20 years. This person recently won a pulitzer prize.

    SH: Yes, but how many more Pulitzers and perhaps a couple of Nobel Prizes would he have won were he to have Just Said No the evil weed?

    Sincerely,

    The Drug-Free Guy that never gets invited to parties.

  39. In my industry they don’t hire you UNLESS you smoke.

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