We've all been there. You've worked all day to fill a rush job order at an important client. You've looked under every rock, behind every tree, and inside every closet to find that last person to finally say yes, he'll take the job and - happy dance - he'll start tomorrow. No transportation issues. No elderly aunt who's relying on your guy to take her to her hairdressing appointment. No sick kids. Just a person who seems to really need a job and is ready to go. 

You breathe a sigh of relief as you schedule him to come in the office that evening to process. Just a few papers, a drug test, and he'll be good to go, and the wolf at your door will remain at bay for at least one more day. 

Except, there's just one problem, one you find out right before closing time. You see, your hero really wants to work and all, but he really wants to smoke weed too, or at least he wanted to that night last week when his girlfriend made him take a puff. He hesitated because he never does stuff like that but, what the hell, he didn't have a job at the time so you know how it goes.

And he doesn't have one now either, which is a problem for him, but it's an even bigger one for you.

At moments like that, and everyone's had them, does at least a fleeting thought dance around your brain, even for a second? 

Do you ever wish you could just do away with drug testing altogether? 

You don't want to answer that question? I get it. If we were all in a room together you probably wouldn't want to raise your hand because if you did you'd be shamed by everyone else (although everyone else would probably be thinking the same thing!).

I'll confess. I've certainly had those thoughts, more than once. But sanity always prevails in the end. After all, do we really want drugged out zombies operating heavy, or even light, machinery? Do we want them moving around giant stacks of product with a forklift?

Just for laughs (unless these folks are you), here are just a few things that could possibly go wrong...


A few months ago I conducted an internal poll among our branch managers. One of the questions was to rank 11 staffing challenges that made filling their job orders difficult. At the top of the list, right behind "people just don't want to work," was "drug test failure." It's pervasive, epidemic, and it can virtually cripple a business that relies on low or unskilled entry level-type workers. Honestly, there are times when a third or even upwards of half of the people who accept jobs with us end up failing or refusing to take the drug test.  

A few years ago I wrote a post for Staffing Talk entitled Legendary Excuses for Drug Test Failure which detailed some of the more humorous excuses people came up with when that ominous line shows up on their test. One commenter, Jennifer, wrote, "What is crazy is the hypocrisy of the upper class that cheats on taxes, does far more drugs and disqualifies good workers because of moderate use of cannabis."

What Jennifer is referring to is the fact that far more people are on legal prescription drugs, and likely addicted to them, than marijuana. In fact, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch called prescription drug abuse, not marijuana, the biggest "gateway drug" to harder, more dangerous drugs.

How does THAT fit into our nice, tidy drug test box?

Another commenter wrote, "I would rather have a pot smoker working for me than a person who smokes cigs and drinks alcohol every day. At least the pot smoker comes to work without a hangover, does his/her job without taking smoke breaks and seldom calls in sick. By the way, pot can be used for medical purposes. Alcohol and cigs kill people, and yet they are legal to buy."

Which really brings out some of the embedded hypocrisy in the whole "drug test as panacea to all workplace safety and behavioral issues" belief among employers. 

Although I would argue it's the best we've got right now, it's far from a cure-all, and here are a few key reasons why:

  • Someone might have smoked a joint last week and be perfectly non-high while working for you (assuming you didn't drug test them), but someone else might show up with a buzz from alcohol or be impaired by prescription drugs.
  • Someone might fail a test for a joint they smoked three weeks ago, but someone else might pass even though they did meth just last week.
  • Someone might decide to do drugs after they pass your drug test.
  • Someone could cheat the drug test.
  • Someone could live in a state that allows moderate marijuana use for medicinal and even for recreational purposes.

I'm sure there are plenty more where those came from! Another commenter wrote, "I smoked for years (heavy equipment operator) and never had a safety issue. I've built bridges for the masses, roads, train depots, new pads for oil drilling and extraction, everything under the sun in my 14 years as an operator and not one time have I seen an issue that was caused by stoners. Besides them losing their job and us being undermanned until another arrives. I HAVE however seen alcohol cause near deaths, massive equipment damage, crushed limbs, severed limbs etc. I smoked a long time but times have changed and I have a family and a house now. So it IS still a choice but [not] worth the risk to me to smoke. Is it BS? Yes it is. Can I do anything about it? No."

Now I'm not entirely sure how true this would play out in every circumstance, but that's one anecdotal testimony. My guess is said commenter wasn't actually high on the job, which leads to the ultimate conclusion I come to when I ponder all sides of this issue and consider personal rights versus the need for employees versus safety and productivity on the job.

So, what would I eventually like to see (besides having everyone just stop doing drugs, which would be awesome but, sadly, impossible)? 

The answer, and I have no idea how far along it is on the technology pike, would be a way to test people for what's actually affecting them the moment they clock in. Seriously, how cool would it be if technology eventually provided a reasonably inexpensive way to, for example, have workers blow in a device as they clock in to work that could make absolutely sure they aren't at that moment impaired by ANYTHING, whether it be prescription drugs, alcohol, meth, or marijuana?

Now for all the griping back and forth all sides do on the drug test issue, something like THAT might just be a panacea!