Pubdate: Sun, 12 Sep 2010
Source: Record Searchlight (Redding, CA)
Copyright: 2010 Dale Gieringer
Author: Dale Gieringer


Opponents of marijuana legalization complain that Proposition 19 could
endanger workplace safety. Employers, such as Ed Rullman of the Best
Western Hilltop Inn in his Aug. 15 Op-Ed, object that Proposition 19
has a clause protecting employees against discrimination for private,
adult use of marijuana.

However, this is qualified by an important provision protecting
employers' right "to address consumption that actually impairs job

Why then should Proposition 19 be a problem for employers? Because
they want to test employees for behavior that doesn't affect job
performance by using the inherently flawed and inaccurate technology
of urine testing.

Contrary to popular misconception, urine tests don't measure the
active presence of marijuana in the system, but rather non-active
chemical by-products that linger for days or weeks after any impairing
effects have faded. Urine testing routinely flags the most harmless,
weekend use of marijuana, while completely ignoring the No. 1 cause of
drug abuse, alcohol.

Urine testing is therefore a highly unreliable indicator of impairment
or job fitness. In fact, it is perfectly possible to be high as a kite
and still pass a urine test with flying colors because marijuana
doesn't show up in the urine until hours after smoking. Such problems
can be avoided by other, more accurate screening methods, such as
blood tests, which detect the active presence of drugs in the system,
or the field sobriety checks used by law enforcement in DUI stops.

But aren't urine tests still helpful in protecting workplace safety?
Scientific evidence for this is conspicuously lacking. Urine testing
has never undergone the kind of rigorous FDA "safety and efficacy"
studies that are required for other medical devices and drugs.

Numerous studies have found that subjects who test positive for
marijuana are no more accident-prone, and in some instances even
safer, than those who don't.

A recent expert review by the Canadian Center for Addictions Research
recommended against use of drug urinalysis, concluding that
"urinalysis has not been shown to have a meaningful impact on job
injury/accident rates."

A study of high-tech companies found that drug testing was associated
with reduced productivity, apparently because it undermines worker
morale and trust. Drug urinalysis may thus be an indicator of sloppy
management by large corporations who exercise poor oversight over workers.

Until recent years, it would have been laughable to suppose that
American workers should be forced to submit urine samples to prove
their job worthiness. The U.S. is alone among developed countries in
regarding urine testing as a routine practice. In the Netherlands,
where marijuana is legally available to all adults, drug testing is
hardly used, yet workplace safety is substantially better than in the

The bottom line is that marijuana residues in urine pose no risk to
workplace safety. In many cases, it is even preferable to let
employees use marijuana for medical purposes at home so as to help
avoid pain and other problems that can impair their

Of course, there may exist situations where some kind of drug testing
is useful in protecting workplace safety. If so, Proposition 19
specifically permits it. In no case would Proposition 19 override
existing federal drug testing rules, anymore than did Proposition 215.

In general, however, Proposition 19 would benefit countless workers -
pot users and non-users alike - by sparing them the degrading
indignity of submitting to intrusive, misleading urine tests that have
no bearing on job fitness.

Dale Gieringer

Dale Gieringer is director of California NORML. 
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