The Pros and Cons of Dropping Marijuana Testing

You might be thinking about dropping marijuana from your drug testing program?

After reviewing the Pro’s and Con’s below, visit our comprehensive web pages on Marijuana in the Workplace

There’s no doubt that attitudes are rapidly shifting in the United States from “just say no” to “live and let live.”  A 2016 Gallup poll revealed that 60 percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana.  That isn’t just support for medical marijuana, but the legalization of marijuana in general.  In fact, that’s the highest support marijuana legalization has ever had in nearly 50 years since Gallup began tracking it.  No one wants to be the next viral story under the civil liberties spotlight.  So understandably, some employers are choosing to drop marijuana testing from their drug-free workplace policies.  Is this a good idea?  Are there pros to dropping marijuana?  And do they outweigh the cons?

The Pros of Dropping Marijuana Testing

The first and foremost advantage to dropping marijuana testing is money.  Fewer tests means fewer costs, right?  From the outside, this may seem a logical assumption.  In reality, it just isn’t true.  Dropping marijuana from a drug testing panel means employers have to make special requests of laboratories and medical review officers to conduct testing, but ignore marijuana results OR change to a modified panel that on average costs the same or more as a standard panel including marijuana.  Either way, an employer is paying the same cost as before or maybe even more, because there’s typically no difference in the panel excluding marijuana and sometimes an increase.

The second advantage to dropping marijuana testing is privacy.  If marijuana is “legal” in California, Oregon, Washington, and more states than ever then an employer shouldn’t really care if his or her employees are using it outside of work.  To inquire into a legal activity is an invasion of privacy, right?  To assume that employers have no business inquiring into employees’ marijuana use because it’s “legal” is like saying that employers shouldn’t care about excessive and abusive alcohol consumption.  Just because an activity or substance is considered “legal” doesn’t mean that it’s safe or that an employer should turn a blind eye.  And as a side note, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and most states with legalized marijuana still allow and encourage workplace drug testing!

Finally, a pro towards dropping marijuana could be that as laws rapidly change, an employer does not have to keep up with the constant changes and updates to policy.  Although true, the cost of policy reviews and updates is generally nominal, while the cost of increased workers’ compensation claims could be ten times the cost to an employer for a single claim.  And, as far as legal liability goes, a strong and properly worded policy does not prevent employees from bringing frivolous cases against you, but it will prevent you from the cost of litigation and the risk of negligent hiring claims and respondent superior cases that can be significantly more expensive for employers.

The Cons of Dropping Marijuana Testing

The first con from dropping marijuana testing is that more drug-abusing individuals will apply to work for your company.  This isn’t an assumption.  This is a documented fact.  A few years ago, JCB, a heavy-equipment manufacturer, held a job fair near Savannah, Georgia.  When the throng of potential employees learned that the next step of the application process would be a drug test, about half of them left.[i]  Had that group of potential employees initially numbered 30, then that would mean about 15 of them refused to continue because of the drug testing.  We cannot assume that all of them were drug users.  Some people may object on the grounds that a drug test is an invasion of their privacy.  However, we can safely assume that at least some of them were current drug users.  So when you drop marijuana testing, you can be certain that more marijuana-abusing individuals will apply to work for you.  And since you are no longer testing, some will inevitably get hired, bringing all the problems associated with marijuana to your workplace.

Additionally, when an employer discontinues testing for marijuana, he or she will assume more costs, both hard and soft.  The federal government estimates the overall cost of addressing substance abuse in America is $600 billion annually.[ii]  The annual estimated cost of drug abuse on businesses alone is $193 billion.  That breaks down to $120 billion in lost productivity, $11 billion in healthcare costs, and $61 billion in criminal justice costs.[iii]  This estimate comes from 2007, the latest available estimate used by the federal government.  Since then, public opinion has shifted more in favor of legalizing marijuana, and teen and adult marijuana use has risen, especially in those states that have made it fully legal.  It is safe to say that this is a conservative estimate if applied to the economy of 2017.  Additionally, the White House has published statistics online that show that current drug users;

  • Are twice as likely as non-drug users to report working for three or more different employers in a one-year period (increased turnover).
  • In the same period, current drug users are more likely to miss two or more workdays due to illness or injury (lost productivity).
  • Full-time workers who are current drug users are twice as likely than non-drug users to skip one or more days of work in a month (lost productivity).

That much turnover, sick leave, and absenteeism can cause a logistics nightmare for any sized company and make revenue and profits that much harder to guarantee.  When an employer stops testing for marijuana, more marijuana users will join the company.  As this happens, that company’s share of the nation’s lost productivity, healthcare costs, and criminal justice costs will increase.


Legalized marijuana is not going away, in fact, it is fair to assume it is going to continue to spread in the United States and globally.  The full cost of legalization is yet to be discovered, but based on what we know now, the cost to employers will be significant.  More people are using drugs than in the past 15 years and marijuana is fueling that increase.  Employers have the right to test for all drugs, including marijuana.  Drug testing is not only smart for public safety and workplace safety; it is also fiscally responsible for employers. An updated drug testing policy continued education based on science and statistical evidence, and continued pre- and post-employment drug testing programs will always work!

[i] Calmes, J. (May 17, 2016).  The New York Times.  Hiring Hurdle: Finding Workers Who Can Pass a Drug Test.  Retrieved from

[ii] SAMHSA (July 26, 2016). Prevention of substance abuse and mental illness. Retrieved from

[iii] The White House (2016).  How Illicit Drug Use Affects Business and the Economy.  Retrieved from

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