The Time Is Right To End Workplace Weed Testing: The year was 1971. President Richard Nixon had published a special message to the US Congress on the topic of Drug Abuse Prevention and Control in which he called the country’s supposed drug problem, “public enemy number one.” The next day, Nixon held a press conference declaring a “War on Drugs,” a term which the media quickly picked up and ran with.
That same year, Nixon implemented drug testing in the military for soldiers returning from Vietnam. In 1974, the Department of Defense initiated random testing of military personnel. It was called a clinical initiative to help identify personnel for rehabilitation.
In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12564, in which he ordered mandatory drug testing for all federal employees. The long-winded executive order is, as one would assume, filled with drug-related propaganda which only provided more fuel to the fire of society’s belief that the War On Drugs held value.
“I, RONALD REAGAN, President of the United States of America, find that:
Drug use is having serious adverse effects upon a significant proportion of the national workforce and results in billions of dollars of lost productivity each year;
The profits from illegal drugs provide the single greatest source of income for organized crime, fuel violent street crime, and otherwise contribute to the breakdown of our society;
The use of illegal drugs, on or off duty, by Federal employees, is inconsistent not only with the law-abiding behavior expected of all citizens but also with the special trust placed in such employees as servants of the public;
Federal employees who use illegal drugs, on or off duty, tend to be less productive, less reliable, and prone to greater absenteeism than their fellow employees who do not use illegal drugs;
The use of illegal drugs, on or off duty, by Federal employees in certain positions evidences less than the complete reliability, stability, and good judgment that is consistent with access to sensitive information and creates the possibility of coercion, influence, and irresponsible action under pressure that may pose a serious risk to national security, the public safety, and the effective enforcement of the law.”
You can read the Executive Order in its entirety here, but the gist of it is “Drugs bad. People who do drugs = bad. Shame, shame, shame.”
Drug Testing Was Less About Drugs And More About Racism
We’re sure that everyone is shocked to hear that the whole War On Drugs wasn’t exactly about the drugs themselves, but rather about turning society against the burgeoning anti-war movement of the late 60s and 70s, and African Americans as a whole.
In 1994, American journalist, Dan Baum, was writing a book about the politics surrounding drug prohibition. For the book, he managed to track down former Nixon aide, and Watergate co-conspirator, John Ehrlichman. After a series of questions about Nixon’s War On Drugs, Ehrlichman got straight to business with Baum.
“You want to know what this was really all about. The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.
We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”
A little over five decades later, we are still implementing workplace drug testing that not only has its foundation in racism but also continues to disproportionately affect minority populations across the country.
Workplace Weed Testing Leads To Labor Shortage & Racial Inequity
Since the onslaught of the pandemic, we have been hit with a massive labor shortage, and workplace weed testing has done nothing but continue to contribute to that shortage. Since January of 2020, more than 72,000 truck drivers have failed their workplace weed testing, and have therefore been unable to continue to do their jobs, despite the fact that we are in the midst of a global pandemic where supplies are already in great demand and have a raging labor shortage.
And while you ponder that huge number, keep in mind that the American Trucking Association says that on top of the 72,000 truck drivers who are no longer allowed to perform their duties, they are already facing a labor shortage of around 80,000 truckers.
But the labor shortage isn’t the only consequence of workplace weed testing. It isn’t even the worst consequence.
In 2018, the American Addiction Centers conducted a survey of 1,500 Americans in an effort to understand and “study the history of drug testing at work.” In the survey, their subsidiary, Detox.net, found that African Americans were twice as likely to face repercussions – whether being reprimanded or even fired – at work after failing a workplace weed testing than their white counterparts. A similar study conducted by Yale School of Medicine in 2013 found that drug testing in the workplace weed testing occurred far more often in workplaces where that employed large numbers of ethnic and racial minorities.
Related Reading: Why America Arrests More People for Cannabis Possession Each Year Than for All Violent Crimes COMBINED
Amara Ahmed, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union explains this bias even further as it relates to the War on Drugs, “It’s important to understand how workplace weed testing and drug-testing connects to the War on Drugs and race. When President Nixon declared his War on Drugs, the goal was to disrupt Black communities, and by that measure, the policies succeeded.
But the war has failed to curb drug use or improve public safety. A problem with random drug testing, in particular, is that we know implicit bias exists. An employer may set out to conduct random drug testing, but the result can have a disparate impact on people of color, whether that’s intentional or not.”
Since the legalization of cannabis across many states began in 2012, it makes very little sense that workplace weed testing is still a thing. If we’re not testing our workforce for their alcohol consumption after work hours, why would we continue to test them for their after-hours weed testing consumption? It’s well-proven that consuming cannabis, on your own time, does not affect your ability to do your work the following day, whereas working hungover absolutely can affect your ability to perform your duties properly.
The time to end workplace weed testing is now. When Amazon announced in June of 2021 that it would stop drug screening in both pre-employment and employment stages, many other companies began to follow suit. But it’s not enough. We need to put an end to it altogether. If the War on Drugs and workplace drug testing haven’t done anything for us in 50 years, then it’s time to put those failed initiatives to bed.