It’s the Drug Testing That’s the Problem, Not the Test Results
There is much excitement throughout the online marijuana media about the recent announcement from AutoNation, the nation’s largest car retailer, about its pre-employment piss testing program.
AutoNation Inc. no longer refuses to hire job applicants who test positive for marijuana in drug screenings, Chief Executive Officer Mike Jackson said in an interview. The shift, which Jackson said was made quietly two years ago, shows that corporate America’s hiring practices are evolving along with pot’s legal status.
“If you tested positive for marijuana, you couldn’t join our company,” said Jackson, 68. “At a certain point, we said, ‘You know what? That’s wrong.’”
I’d like to think that the aging baby boomer CEO has had an epiphany about the disgusting and tyrannical use of piss testing to discriminate against otherwise capable employees.
However, it’s more likely that AutoNation found out that they are at a competitive disadvantage if they keep weeding out the weed lovers, especially now that so many states have expanded legal access to adults.
Because when Jackson says, “that’s wrong,” he’s referring to discrimination based on the pot-positive results of the piss test, not that piss testing for employment itself is wrong.
AutoNation will still bar anyone who tests positive for other illegal drugs, including cocaine, Jackson said.
Why? What would the presence of cocaine metabolites in a potential hire’s piss tell AutoNation about whether they are a capable, trustworthy employee?
The presumption, of course, is that someone with cocaine, meth, heroin, LSD, or other drug in their system that doesn’t come in a bar-coded bottle from a pharmacy must be a deranged, hopeless addict who will endanger the company and its customers.
But that’s not true. Most people who use drugs do so in a responsible and safe manner and don’t have a dependency issue.
Most People Do Drugs Responsibly
Let me say it again: Most people who use drugs do so responsibly.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse – hardly a pro-drug outfit – will tell you that 23 percent of individuals who use heroin develop opioid addiction.
So, doesn’t that mean 77 percent – more than three-out-of-four – heroin users don’t develop addiction?
Why should those heroin users be considered any less capable as employees than the ones currently working with prescriptions for synthetic opioids like Oxycontin?
When those working Oxy consumers develop a dependence issue, many employers will have compassion for them. They’ll have EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) that grant them leave time and the company health insurance is mandated to cover drug treatment.
The unemployed heroin consumer, on the other hand, may be forced to resort to more problematic ways of dealing with dependence.
A study in the Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology of over 1,000 new cocaine users found that around 5-to-6 percent of them went on to develop an unhealthy dependence on cocaine.
For comparison, a study in JAMA Psychiatry found that one-on-eight adults in America meets the criteria for alcohol use disorder, what we call “alcoholism.”
Yet alcohol isn’t even tested for in the piss of potential new hires. Hell, alcohol was acceptable on the breath of workers returning from lunch in some places I’ve been employed.
So, we’re going to not test for booze, we’ll normalize its use at three-martini lunches and company Christmas parties, and we’ll accept with a wink those employees who call in “sick” the day after Super Bowl, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, and the rest who work hungover on a regular old Monday.
But we’re going to bar anybody testing positive for the drug that made Wall Street, Saturday Night Live, and the best music and comedies of the late 70s and early 80s possible?
We’re going to bar anybody with a trace of methamphetamine in their system, but someone with traces of Adderall (d-amphetamine and amphetamine salts that produces the same effect as meth) is a worthy candidate?
If There’s a Real Drug Problem, They Wouldn’t Make It Past the Interview
The problem underlying pre-employment piss testing is the fraudulent concept that an employer has the right to demand that a person not even yet in their employ must prove their innocence to unfiled criminal drug charges to qualify for the employment that is pre-requisite to living anywhere but the streets.
Everybody. Not just applicants for whom the employer may have just cause to believe they have a dependence issue. Everybody is presumed guilty of being a criminal drug addict until proven innocent by piss.
When Florida tried to piss test everybody who applied for welfare, the courts shot them down. When a Missouri university tried to piss test everybody who applied for a degree, the courts shot them down. When Georgia tried to piss test everybody who wanted to run for office, the courts shot them down.
All those cases were struck down because the government, in the form of the welfare office, the school, and the legislature, cannot force you to submit to a search of your person without a warrant, absent a compelling government interest.
That “compelling government interest” can be as flimsy as offering welfare applicants a stupid quiz to manufacture a probable cause for compelling a piss test. It can be limiting the piss testing to kids who take part in athletics, because they might get hurt if they’re high, or even extra-curricular activities, like middle-school band or chess club, anything but “all students.”
But when it comes to the workplace, well, folks, that ain’t the government. As far as the law is concerned, you becoming someone’s employee is just two private entities engaging in a voluntary contract. Nobody is forcing you to submit to a warrantless search of your bladder. If you don’t want to take the whiz quiz, why, you just don’t have to apply for that job.
That’s wrong. Not just wrong because you must work, or you can’t survive, but wrong because it violates our inalienable rights to privacy.
We Need a Personal Privacy & Identity Amendment
The 4th Amendment begins, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” It is read as a prohibition only against government intrusion on personal privacy.
But I argue it is only that limited in scope because the Founding Fathers couldn’t have imagined any legitimate force aside from government that could unreasonably search us. Sure, a brigand crew could use muskets and knives to force us to submit to a search, but that would be a criminal use of force. Could the Founders have imagined the town blacksmith demanding a cup of piss from an apprentice to determine whether he uses opium?
In modern society, the employer has the kind of power over our lives that the authoritarian despots of the past could only dream of. It’s long past time that we established the kind of protection from corporate abuses of our rights and we have from government abuses of our rights.
This is not just for the right to be free from piss tests as a determinant of our livelihoods. Current rights to birth control, abortion, and gay marriage are all resting on a vague “penumbra of rights” not spelled out in the Constitution but inferred through numerous court decisions, a shaky foundation that is forever being chipped away by regressive politicians.
A specific right to personal privacy is needed that dictates that our bodies (and all that they produce) and our identities are our property. An act that spells out that our place in civil society and the capitalist economy cannot be determined by the composition of our bodies – that’s all none of your business.
What clever name should we call us? The Strainstream Media? Maybe for the cultivation-oriented websites. Baked News? Nah, sounds too Trumpian. The Cannamedia? Ugh, I’m so hella tired of canna- everything. I’ll get back to you on this one. ↑
Framing tip: Whenever possible, call it “piss testing.” That word is slightly vulgar and evokes a bit of revulsion. We want that emotion in the listener when they consider this issue. “Drug testing” is their frame, as if what they are doing is detecting drug users, when, in fact, they are detecting the metabolites of a select few drugs in a tiny fraction of applicants by sampling everybody’s piss. “Drug testing” is something that catches “them;” “piss testing” is something that inconveniences everybody. “Urine screening” is the middle ground but is still too much laboratory and not enough “yuck.” ↑