As Marijuana Gets Legalized, Companies Drop THC Testing Of Employees

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At the Ed Morse empire of auto dealerships, testing for THC no longer is part of the hiring process.

Ed Morse Automotive Group this month stopped screening for marijuana metabolites before offering positions to job candidates, says Teddy Morse, chairman and chief executive of the 1,200-employee company. Ed Morse Automotive Group still tests for signs of cocaine, heroin and other illegal drugs in the urine of prospective employees.

“I’m not condoning drug use,” Morse said in an interview. “But I don’t consider pot to be this evil substance. I don’t think it’s something we should test for anymore.”

Amid a nationwide wave of cannabis legalization, some employers have rethought their positions on pot. AutoNation, the Fort Lauderdale-based chain, revealed last year that it had quietly stopped testing for weed a few years ago.

“If you tested positive for marijuana, you couldn’t join our company,” AutoNation Chief Executive Mike Jackson told Bloomberg News. “At a certain point, we said, ‘You know what? That’s wrong.’”

Florida is one of many states that have legalized cannabis for medical use, and more than 190,000 patients are on the state registry of medical marijuana users. Some states, including California, Colorado, Nevada and Washington, have legalized weed entirely, and employers have begun to rethink whether marijuana use should disqualify new hires.

“Quite a number of our clients are no longer testing for THC,” said Joyce Chastain, a human resources consultant and former president of the HR Florida State Council. “They don’t want to lose good people.”

In the context of changing attitudes toward pot — and with unemployment at 50-year lows — even employers in staid industries like the auto business are loosening their rules about marijuana use.

“You’re seeing a lot of employers moving away from firing individuals just for having THC metabolites in their system,” said Erik Altieri, head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Washington, D.C. “The reality in 2019 is that employers in states with legal marijuana can’t continue to enforce the same drug-testing protocol.”

Ed Morse Automotive Group operates 22 dealership franchises in Florida and Texas, including Ed Morse Delray Toyota and Ed Morse Delray Cadillac in Delray Beach and Ed Morse Honda in Riviera Beach.

Morse said he’s not a marijuana user himself and is no crusader for cannabis. But as a practical matter, he didn’t think it made sense to continue rejecting a significant slice of the work force.

The company frequently turned down job applicants who tested positive for THC but no other illegal substance, Morse said. And he assumes that some prospective employees decided not to apply for jobs at Ed Morse Automotive Group because they knew they’d be subjected to a cannabis screening.

“I feel it’s going to allow us to have a better caliber, a better quality of employees,” Morse said. “Some of the most successful, capable people I know choose to smoke pot rather than drink. I just feel there are a lot of good, hard-working people who choose to use this product.”

Marijuana legalization has created no shortage of puzzles for employers. Cannabis remains federally illegal, so federal contractors and many large, national companies still test for pot.

Early in the legalization movement, courts ruled that employers — including Walmart and Dish Network — were within their rights to fire workers who tested positive for pot, even if those employees consumed cannabis in ways that complied with state law.

More recently, however, courts have begun to side with employees using cannabis under state law, said Dori Stibolt, an employment attorney at Fox Rothschild in West Palm Beach. Courts in Massachusetts and Rhode Island ruled in favor of cannabis-using workers.

“It’s a difficult time to be an employer trying to figure this out,” Stibolt said.

Complicating the drug-testing question is the quirky way the body processes marijuana. Unlike alcohol and other intoxicants, which the body quickly flushes, marijuana can stay in fat cells for as long as a month. That means even an occasional weed user can test positive for pot long after the high has worn off.

“Employers were losing solid talent based on a sketchy test,” Chastain said.
Human resources experts say legalized pot poses unexpected challenges. Some HR specialists note that companies don’t fire workers who test positive for legally prescribed opioids, and they argue that a similar policy should apply to pot.

Meanwhile, pot proponents like Altieri say employers are embracing the notion that workers can consume cannabis off the clock and remain productive on the job.

“If you decide to consume marijuana on the weekend in your free time, it really has no bearing on your performance,” Altieri said. “If you’re showing up to work on time and otherwise doing your job, smoking a joint on a Friday night is really no different from having a couple martinis.”

Stibolt, the employment attorney, said employers might be wise to test for THC only certain employees, such as those operating heavy machinery.

“Some employers are testing employees who don’t really need to be tested,” Stibolt said. “It doesn’t really matter if your receptionist smoked marijuana a week ago.”