Marijuana Recruiting: Impact & Testing on an Equitable Workforce

Julie CalliBy Julie Calli
April 19th, 2022 • 4 Minutes

As labor demands are surging and the workforce is shrinking, companies are feeling the labor market go up in smoke. To meet workforce demands, some companies are reevaluating ways they might be alienating large groups of people due to their own policy or procedures that may inadvertently create exclusions, such as their policy towards the use of marijuana. With the legalization of marijuana in many states, companies are realizing that policy towards mandatory drug testing is limiting their ability to find workers, and currently, 56 percent of large businesses still require some type of drug testing. However, the policies toward cannabis are rapidly changing. 

Naturally, employers have a financial interest in ensuring that employees are not coming to work intoxicated, but cannabis use off-the-clock would result in a failed drug test. More than half of all American adults have tried marijuana at least once in their lives, and nearly 22 percent currently use it, according to a survey by Marist. That makes up a significant percentage of the US population and offers the opportunity to expand pipelines for meeting the demands for talent acquisition and workforce.

Although cannabis remains an illegal substance federally, the number of states that permit its use is growing rapidly. The laws pertaining to cannabis use vary from state to state, with nearly 75% of all the states legalizing marijuana in some capacity – from medical to recreational use. Which for a notational employer means inconsistency of the law across the states they may operate. For example, the use of marijuana may be a criminal act in one state, and in another it may be legally permitted for recreational use. As an employer, policy consistency is critical in ensuring equal and fair treatment, and it can be viewed as inequitable to allow candidates to be screened for marijuana in one state, but be excused in another. 

It gets complicated quickly for a national organization to address how to manage state-level variations of policy with consistency and fairness. Addressing questions like: Is the required screening based on where a person lives, or where they do their work? What about remote employees and candidates? Or the expectations associated with transfers or relocations? For this reason, companies have been defaulting to the no tolerance policy to simplify and remain consistent with policy as it relates to marijuana. It may make it easier from the perspective of consistent policy by blanketing all to be the same, but that also alienates a very large group of potential workforce that are within their state level legal right. This is why federal policy reform can benefit national organizations that are struggling to address this opportunity to be more equitable in employment screenings with varying state policy. 

In June 2021, Amazon announced that they would exclude marijuana from their comprehensive pre-employment drug screening program for unregulated positions to provide a more equitable workplace.“We made these changes for a few reasons. First, we recognized that an increasing number of states are moving to some level of cannabis legalization—making it difficult to implement an equitable, consistent, and national pre-employment marijuana testing program. Second, publicly available national data indicates that pre-employment marijuana testing disproportionately impacts people of color and acts as a barrier to employment. And third, Amazon’s pace of growth means that we are always looking to hire great new team members, and we’ve found that eliminating pre-employment testing for cannabis allows us to expand our applicant pool.” says Beth Galetti, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Amazon.

Amazon is not alone in recognizing that national policy is worth reform, limiting workforce potential, and alienating talent. A survey done by ManpowerGroup, a staffing firm, found that 9% of companies were eliminating the tests to attract and retain talent. Bloomberg reported the company believes screening for pot use cut the pool of potential workers by 30%. For this reason, many companies have already began progressing their policy towards marijuana, in fact here is list of 20 big companies that don’t drug test

  • Chipotle
  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Starbucks
  • Whole Foods
  • Apple
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods
  • Michael’s
  • Petsmart
  • Target
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Sprouts
  • Gap
  • Amazon
  • Kroger
  • Walmart
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • 24-Hour Fitness
  • Dollar General

This progression of company policy can be a talent acquisition competitive advantage for these early adaptors, but likely not for long. As legalization, nationalization and social acceptance are all progressing rapidly, more companies will follow suit in the very near future, which will open talent pipelines for struggling to meet their workforce demands.

It is important to note, however, that removing marijuana from pre-employment screening does not mean that an organization is encouraging or condoning the use of marijuana. In fact, it should be very clear it’s never permitted in the actual workplace. The intent is to be inclusive and not to reject people based on their lifestyle choices that are made in their private life and within their own legal rights. Amazon noted this clearly when they announced the removal of marijuana in their pre-employment screening, “We remain committed to the safety of our employees and the general public. In addition to following all Department of Transportation regulations, our policy on zero tolerance for impairment while working has not changed.” While removing marijuana from pre-employment screenings can offer opportunities to expand talent pipelines, it has no place in the actual workplace environment – as well as any other drug associated with impairment.

As cannabis legalization becomes normalized and more widespread, employers will have to experiment with different approaches that suit their industry, brand, and culture. As with most workplace policies, there is no right or wrong answer. The best approach will be different for each company and, ultimately, whatever arrangement ensures workplace safety, productivity, and high employee morale.

As the cannabis legalization debate moves from the states to the halls of Congress, workplace drug policy on cannabis is something more employers will be thinking about.

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