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Amazon became the latest large company to adjust its drug-testing policy for marijuana among its United States workforce. In a June 1 blog post, Amazon’s consumer boss, Dave Clark, said the company will no longer screen for marijuana in the pre-hire process in most circumstances.
“In the past, like many employers, we've disqualified people from working at Amazon if they tested positive for marijuana use,” Clark wrote. “However, given where state laws are moving across the U.S., we've changed course. We will no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug-screening program for any positions not regulated by the Department of Transportation and will instead treat it the same as alcohol use.”
Clark also said Amazon supports the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which was reintroduced in the House late last month. The MORE Act would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, expunge criminal records and invest in impacted communities.
“We hope that other employers will join us, and that policymakers will act swiftly to pass this law,” Clark wrote. The company will no longer include marijuana in its drug screening program, except those that are regulated by the Department of Transportation.
Amazon is far from the first major company to adapt its view on cannabis. Other employers like Hospitality Ventures, a management group that runs Marriott and Hilton hotels, stopped testing for marijuana nationwide back in 2015 upon opening a Colorado property. Susan Sanders, the company’s chief human resources officer told The Wall Street Journal that it created a competitive advantage.
“It was part of the practical nature of wanting to be an attractive employer in that downtown Denver market,” she said. Ideally, marijuana can be “part of what people do when they’re not working that isn’t going to carry over into the workday.” Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.
The 2020 election saw Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota pass ballot measures that fully legalized marijuana in their state while Mississippi legalized medical marijuana. Currently, there are 16 states where marijuana is fully legal and at least 36 states that allow for medical marijuana.
Other notable employers such as Google, Chipotle, Apple, Starbucks, Microsoft, Whole Foods, Michael’s, Petsmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, Qualcomm and Gap have either loosened their stance on marijuana or stopped testing for it altogether. Some of this is strategic, while some of it is an acceptance of the current landscape. Last year, of the seven million drug tests conducted for employers by Quest Diagnostics, around 2.7% came back positive for marijuana. The number has been rising slowly, from 2% in 2016, as more states legalize recreational use.
In a story for Workspan magazine’s 2021 first quarter edition, Michael McQueeny, an attorney in Foley Hoag’s cannabis practice, said the legal recommendation has tilted this way as well.
“The general recommendation is to avoid pre-hire drug tests,” McQueeny said. “A pre-hire drug test may force you to engage with that interactive, deliberative process far ahead of even the decision as to whether you want to hire this person in the first place. So, there’s a school of thought that you’re opening yourself up to that civil liability by even engaging in that pre-hire drug testing process.”
Rather than weeding out qualified candidates because of their social activities outside of work, many companies have chosen to acquiesce to the changing environment. Amazon’s recent shift in policy is evidence of this and it’s likely many companies operating in the hospitality space will follow suit in the coming months, if they haven’t already, in a desperate effort to fill positions in a tightened labor market.
“Employers are using a multitude of ways to gain a competitive advantage right now,” said Alicia Scott-Wears, content director, WorldatWork. “With many states already relaxing and legalizing marijuana, employers easing up on drug testing for marijuana for non-safety-sensitive roles might be an additional way for companies to attract workers they so desperately need.”
About the Author
Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.