A recent survey has found more Colorado employers are relaxing their marijuana testing policies and fewer of them are firing workers who test positive for weed compared to a few years ago.
Only 48 percent of Colorado companies with “well-defined” drug testing policies will fire a worker for a first-time positive test for pot, according to data collected by the Employers Council in November. That’s down from 53 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, 5 percent of companies surveyed have dropped marijuana from their pre-employment drug screening program in the last two years and 2 percent have stopped screening for it altogether.
The council — a Denver nonprofit organization formerly known as the Mountain States Employers Council — has polled Colorado employers on their drug testing policies with a special emphasis on marijuana every other year since 2014. That’s the year recreational pot sales became legal in Colorado after voters approved Amendment 64 in 2012.
A total of 636 companies replied to the survey in November but just 371 organizations claimed to have “well-defined” drug testing policies they could speak to. The responding workplaces hail from a variety of industries and regions within the state.
“A lot of companies began testing for the first time (in 2014), but it seems like it has calmed down a lot since then because the sky has not actually fallen,” Curtis Graves, an attorney with the Employers Council, said of this year’s survey findings. “Pre-employment drug testing seems to be down across the board but particularly for marijuana.”
In 2014, 21 percent of companies said that they had recently made their drug policy more stringent in reaction to Amendment 64. Just 2 percent relaxed their policies at that time. Fast forward to 2018 and 9 percent of companies say they have relaxed their marijuana testing policy, and just 4 percent said they have made it tougher.
Graves, who has been with the Employers Council for 11 years, found that the changing attitudes toward marijuana is even more apparent when filtering out companies whose drug testing policies are written to comply with U.S. Department of Transportation standards. The transportation department has a zero-tolerance policy for marijuana, which is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substances by the federal government. Of the 371 companies with well-defined testing policies, 232 are not subject to DOT standards.
When DOT-compliant companies are filtered out, the survey found 13 percent of employers claimed to have relaxed their marijuana testing policies in the last two years, and 7 percent of them have dropped the drug from their pre-employment testing program.
Just 46 percent of non-DOT companies fire workers the first time they test positive for marijuana. Even subsequent positive tests don’t get an employee fired at those organizations. The survey found that 5 percent of responding firms suspend an employee without pay if they test positive for marijuana twice, another 5 percent send the employee to a treatment program and 7 percent allow the employee to go back work under “probationary conditions.”
“What we’re seeing here is basically its a nonissue,” Graves said.
Colorado may have been a forerunner for recreational legalization, but marijuana is making a slow steady march toward legitimacy across the country. Ten states and Canada now allow for legal recreational marijuana use. Another 23 allow for medical marijuana use and a bill that would make New Mexico a rec legal state is moving through its legislature.
Aside from evolving attitudes, Graves has a theory as to why more Colorado companies are relaxing their rules: an unemployment rate that has remained consistently near historic lows for the past three years. The state’s unemployment rate rose to 3.7 percent in January.
“Clearly, the low unemployment is impacting people’s ability to say, ‘Hey, we’re zero tolerance,’ ” Graves said. “They just won’t be able to staff the position.”