After Rejecting Pot Prohibition, The New York Times Still Rejects Pot Smokers



Over the weekend, as you may have heardThe New York Times ran an editorial saying "the federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana." But as The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone pointed out on Sunday evening, the Times has not repealed its own ban on marijuana. To be more precise, it continues to insist that the urine of job applicants be free of marijuana metabolites, which indicate consumption of cannabis at some point in the recent past—anywhere from a few days to a few weeks earlier, depending on how frequently the source of the sample partakes. Metabolites do not measure impairment, and requiring applicants to pass a pre-employment drug test is not even an effective way to screen out pot smokers, since applicants generally have enough notice that they can abstain for a while, pass the test, and resume their habits afterward. New York Times Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal, for instance, told MSNBC's Chris Hayes that he passed his urine test in 1987. Who knows what Rosenthal has been up to since then?

More to the point, who cares? The main function of this excretory ritual is reinforcing the arbitrary distinctions drawn by our drug laws. But The New York Times has renounced those distinctions, at least with regard to marijuana, which it calls "far less dangerous than alcohol." So it is fair to ask why the Times is still pretending not to hire pot smokers when it has no issue with drinkers provided their alcohol consumption does not affect their work. "Our corporate policy on this issue reflects current law," a company spokeswoman told Calderone. "We aren't going to get into details beyond that." Contrary to the implication, the Times is not legally required to test aspiring reporters, editors, or photographers for marijuana. The company has the right to do so if it chooses, but that choice seems inconsistent with its rejection of pot prohibition and the prejudices underlying it.

Rosenthal told Hayes that Publisher Arthur Sulzberger had no problem with supporting legalization. "I think he'd probably been there before I was," Rosenthal said. Yet here is what Rosenthal had to say about the paper's drug testing policy: "Whether we're going to continue testing for marijuana or not, I don't know. If they ask me, I'll say, 'Stop.' But they won't."

A petition started by WeedMaps, the online dispensary directory, argues that the paper's business side should listen to Rosenthal:

The Times should bring its internal company policies into line with its views on the need to end legal discrimination against people who use marijuana. No one is saying that employers should be forced to deal with workers who are intoxicated at the office, but off-duty marijuana use doesn't negatively impact a journalist's ability to do his or her job. Traditional drug testing programs cannot determine whether someone is currently high; they merely test for metabolites that indicate whether someone used marijuana as far back as a month ago. 

The Times should replace its outdated drug testing policy with a modern approach that focuses on impairment in the workplace, prioritizing job performance over the content of employees' urine. What journalists and other employees do on their own time is their own business. The Times doesn't concern itself with whether their writers have a drink after work. They should institute the same policy for marijuana.

As I noted a couple weeks ago, there is some evidence that employers in Colorado and Washington are moving in that direction. Testing companies are responding with drug screens that omit marijuana.

"If The New York Times believes it is wrong to discriminate against people for using marijuana," says Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority, "then they should stop doing so. Full stop. Forward-thinking companies in the emerging legal marijuana industry, such as WeedMaps, are leading the way toward a post-prohibition approach to hiring and human resources by focusing on job performance and not on the content of their employees' urine. The Times Company and other businesses in traditional sectors would do well to follow suit."

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  1. I’m,for,legalization of,all,drugs and a lowering of the drinking age to 18 so it coincides with the age of majority. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t drug test my prospective employees. Sorry, but I wouldn’t want a smack-head driving a backhoe on my job site.

    1. Fucking nailed it. I don’t have to personally condone or endorse something to think it should be legal, and neither does the NYT.

      1. Sloop was talking about a safety/liability reason to test. Writing for the NYT raises few safety:liability issues. Being stoned would be an advantage IMHO. Still, it’s their call.

    2. If you are worried about safety, drug testing is fairly pointless.

      You should be testing for impairment.

      1. But the test establishes your company policy and if administered across the board, it can’t be construed as arbitrary.

        You’re doing it to protect yourself from liability as much as anything. Then if an accident happens, you test for impairment EVERY TIME. And if someone tests positive,,your liability can be severely limited.

        1. Oh, you’re worried about liability. I jumped to the conclusion that you were worried about safety. My bad. Carry on.

          1. If you were worried about safety, you’d probably want to weed out the drunks first, anyway.

    3. Part of the reason for the idiotic drug testing is the fact that government has made it so difficult to fire people for being shitty at their jobs.

      You can fire shitty workers only if you also fire a bunch of people who are okay at their jobs.

    4. If you can’t tell whether an employee is using drugs without a surprise drug test, obviously his usage isn’t affecting his job performance.

  2. Please tell me the NYT is losing market share or money or something.

    1. They’ve been hemorrhaging money for a decade. Why do you think they’re such proponents of registration for the press and barriers to entry?

      1. When will that newspaper die!?!

  3. I’m constantly amazed that drinkers think mj is a powerful drug.

    1. Yeah, that’s an odd one. By pretty much any measure, alcohol is way more of a hard drug than pot.

      1. Shut up, hippies.

        *sips Manhattan*

        1. Why do you want to muck up perfectly good whiskey like that?

    2. If MJ is so weak why do potheads make such a big deal about it?

      That sort of cuts two ways.

      1. I don’t think weak is the word. And in any case, strength isn’t the way to measure the desirability of a drug.

        Look at it this way: If you see someone who has smoked way too much weed, they are almost certainly asleep and will wake up feeling somewhat fuzzy, but pretty OK.
        Find someone who has had way too much alcohol and they are either dead, violently ill or acting like a fucking maniac and will wake up the next day remembering nothing and feeling very badly.

        I have no problem with alcohol, nor am I saying that pot is completely benign. But alcohol’s potential to cause harm, profound intoxication and debilitating addiction are indisputably much greater than that of pot.

        1. Alcohol causes problems like guns cause shootings.

          1. OK, “cause” is the wrong word to use. I’m saying alcohol is a very effective tool that many people use to cause problems for themselves. Drugs have no agency.

      2. if. so you don’t know. please tell me more.

        and pot smokers aren’t the ones who make a big deal out of it. prohibitionists do that.

        1. Bullshit, potheads have an entire culture, apparently around a placebo effect.

          1. Pot makes one placid. Alcohol makes many people pugilistic. Both have an impact, but alcohol leads to many, many more conflicts or violent acts.

  4. To be more precise, it continues to insist that the urine of job applicants be free of marijuana metabolites, which indicate consumption of cannabis at some point in the recent past…

    If you enjoy getting high on your own time, don’t enter into an employment contract with an employer who uses marijuana as a criteria for rejection. Either side should be free to reject the other based on their own criteria.

    1. Yep. If an employer asked me to piss in a cup, I’d tell them to get fucked. I just wish more people would do that on principle. How is it not incredibly offensive to people to have employers try to police what they do on their own time?

      1. People are in debt up to their eyeballs and will gladly trade their dignity and trust for a chance to whittle away at their debt load.

        That’s why it’s called debt slavery.

        1. I actually sorta like the trend of companies doing credit checks on prospective employees.

          My FICO score is 850, so I ain’t gonna piss in no jar.

    2. If libertarians are sacrificing drug liberalization at the alter of employers’ rights, what the fuck use are you?

  5. Our corporate policy on this issue reflects current law

    Umm, no it doesn’t. There is no law requiring the NYT to drug test its staff. There is no law against showing up at work with drug metabolites in your blood stream.

    You are only doing this because you want to. Admit it. You’ll feel better.

  6. Now we need to know, does Reason drug test it’s employees?

    1. They test randomly. Any drug test that turns out negative is grounds for immediate dismissal.

    2. If you get more than half in the cup, you’re gone.

    3. It’s more of a quiz.

      1. Quiz…wizz…whatever.

  7. You’re looking for consistency from the NYT. How adorable.

    1. Why pick on the NYT.
      Principled consistency is pretty rare.

  8. I would think the NYT printers and deliver people might be pissed that they can’t smoke but the writers can.

  9. I am astounded that a newspaper drug tests. Maybe it’s more of a local paper phenomenon, but the newsroom I used to work in would be decimated.

    At any rate the editorial board doesn’t make company hiring policy, I should hope.

  10. The main reason most employers continue to drug test is they believe (falsely) that anyone who smokes marijuana is not a good, obedient, law-abiding citizen and thus will not be a good employee either. They can also take on some additional legal liabilities by not drug testing certain occupations.

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