Advertisement

Baltimore should stop testing certain potential hires for marijuana

City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed has proposed legislation to stop testing people who apply to city jobs for marijuana.
City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed has proposed legislation to stop testing people who apply to city jobs for marijuana. (Richard Vogel/AP)

Obviously, people shouldn’t come to work high on drugs, but as public sentiment continues to shift toward supporting the legalization of marijuana, why punish potential hires because they sometimes indulge in their private time?

Baltimore City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed wants to make sure that doesn’t happen at the city level. She has introduced legislation that would stop requiring the city to test job applicants for marijuana unless they are candidates for a safety-related position. That means people looking to get jobs with the fire department or health department and those positions that require a driver’s license, such as a trash truck collection, would still be screened. Everyone else would not. We think that is a pretty reasonable proposal, particularly given that many private companies have already abandoned such testing.

Advertisement

We don’t test job applicants to determine whether they had a drink at the bar a day or three before, and public sentiment is moving toward treating marijuana the same way. In Maryland, plenty of people already use marijuana for medicinal purposes and would be fine with recreational use as well. More than 62 percent of the state’s residents support legalizing the drug, and a joint work group of Maryland House and Senate members looking at the issue met recently for the second time. A recent survey by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public found that most Americans see cigarettes and alcohol as a greater health risk than marijuana. Eighteen percent didn’t see it as harmful at all.

We think Maryland should remain cautious about full legalization while we see how other states cope with issues like keeping the drug out of the hands of minors. But we do support the evolution toward a non-punitive attitude toward the drug. Maryland was right to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, and we support State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s decision to stop prosecuting people for marijuana possession while still going after dealers. Maryland courts correctly concluded that the smell of marijuana is no longer enough to justify a search.

Workplaces need to stop targeting those who use the drug if it is not hurting their job performance. That certainly doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to someone who comes to work inebriated. Just like with alcohol, employers can still take action against an employee who comes to work under the influence of marijuana.

Drug testing employees is an archaic and not all that effective way of screening workers that dates back to former President Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs. It started with an executive order calling for drug-free workforces within the federal government. The executive order said drugs led to billions of dollars of lost productivity each year and that those who used, both at work and off the clock, were less productive, less reliable and missed a lot of work. The Drug-Free Workplace Act extended the testing to contractors and those who got federal grants. Private companies and state and local governments eventually followed the federal government’s lead.

As the United States takes a more compassionate approach to the country’s drug problem, ratcheting down the enforcement on marijuana — a drug that’s far less dangerous than legal ones like prescription opioids — is the right way to go.

Research has shown that drug testing doesn’t do much to stop drug use and that people will either pause their use before applying for a job, or not apply to jobs that require the testing. The practice is also expensive for employers and not worth the return.

Even more importantly, employers could be missing out on good workers in a competitive job market. There is no evidence that because a worker smokes marijuana they will not be able to perform their job duties. Blanket drug testing with no reason for suspicion has also been found unconstitutional, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. There is also indication that random drug testing after a person is hired is often geared more at minorities than other employees.

Baltimore isn’t the first jurisdiction to take up such a measure. In fact, Ms. Sneed’s bill doesn’t go as far as Nevada or New York City, where the City Council banned marijuana testing by most employers, including those in the private sector. New York also will stop the city from testing those on probation for marijuana use. Baltimore should continue rethinking how it looks at marijuana possession and stop treating it like the threatening menace that it is not.

Advertisement
Advertisement