O.penVAPE Tries to Spin Its Drug Test Public Relations Failure
On April 17, O.penVAPE, a Colorado company that sells cannabis oil and the portable pens used to vaporize it, announced in a press release their new drug testing policy for their employees. While cannabis would not be tested for, O.penVAPE spokesman Todd Mitchem explained the company would be prohibiting the use of “dangerous drugs”. The policy also called for employees to narc out any evidence of “cannabis abuse” by their colleagues to supervisors.
Predictably, activists in the drug reform movement, myself included, howled in outrage. Seizing our bodily fluids or hair to detect off-site personal drug use is a tool for employers to unfairly oppress cannabis consumers, we explained, and that it’s not the drug being tested for, it’s the invasion of privacy and assumption of guilt before proven innocence we object to. We were shocked that a company whose business model isn’t even possible without the activists who reformed Colorado’s marijuana laws would be so tone deaf about the morals and ethics the drug reform movement stands for.
In response to a growing wave of negative publicity spreading quickly through Twitter and Facebook among the well-connected marijuana activists, as well as articles posted on some of the most trafficked marijuana blogs on the planet, Mitchem began a series of conference calls that included activists from NORML, Drug Policy Alliance, and other organizations. It was then announced last week that, five weeks after the initial drug testing press release, O.penVAPE would be adopting computerized impairment testing preferred by NORML and no employee would be subject to drug testing.
We activists cheered and blasted O.penVAPE’s new-found morality through our social media channels. A company did something wrong, the consumers reacted negatively, the company changed its ways, the consumers were happy. It seemed to me like the story was done… until I read today’s public relations attempt by O.penVAPE in today’s Denver Business Journal to spin their policy change as self-directed.
The first line reeking of a desperate p.r. maneuver read as follows: “Mitchem said the company did not make the change to appease the advocates, but rather because it ‘would have revisited the policy anyway.’” Really? The policy was announced on April 17 and according to the press release, “feedback about the new policy from company employees has been positive.” So what would have been the reason to revisit the policy, if not pressure from growing calls to boycott the company and protest its booths at marijuana trade shows? Why was there no word about revisiting this policy from April 17 to mid-May, when Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority alerted marijuana activists to a policy announcement we all missed back in April?
The second line of p.r. spin: “Mitchem said the advocates ‘made an assumption that [OpenVape] was going to do urine testing,’ but that the company never was.” Nice try. While we did make remarks about “piss testing”, the actual point was about testing employees for drugs, regardless of method. That’s something O.penVAPE made very clear in their former drug testing policy, which read: “O.penVAPE employees may be asked to submit to a medical examination and/or clinical testing for the presence of dangerous drugs. … O.penVAPE reserves the right to examine and test for dangerous drugs at its discretion.” Maybe O.penVAPE had planned to use hair testing (something even more discriminatory and oppressive than urine testing), but clearly Mitchem’s trying to obfuscate the issue.
The third line of p.r. spin comes as the journal explains how Mitchem engaged in a Twitter war with Angell, myself, and others, where he chided the activists for not being “grownups” and not caring about the safety of the workplace. “Mitchem said he was attacked personally, and the ‘very public’ debate caused him to get death threats,” like just about every Twitter user of any prominence who writes something that makes some people angry.
However, Mitchem doesn’t distinguish between the prominent activists who engaged him in polite debate on Twitter and Facebook and the internet hordes that quickly devolve to the lowest common denominator of profanity and rage. “Shortly after, OpenVape changed the policy. ‘If they had not acted with such reactive venom … I would’ve done it faster,’ Mitchem said,” trying to paint the very activists who worked to make his business legal as venomous threats to his family’s safety.
It seems clear to me that Todd Mitchem still doesn’t “get it”. I’m glad the pressure from the cannabis community forced his company to do a cost/benefit analysis and recognize they’d lose more business from tokers than they’d make in positive p.r. among the mainstream. But his series of condescending tweets to activist leaders and continued demonization of users of “dangerous drugs” makes me believe that without our pressure, he’d have been glad to keep the old drug testing policy in place. This attempt in the Denver Business Journal to distance himself from his proud support of the original policy just confirms my suspicions.
In the end, the company did the right thing, even if it now wants to whitewash the reasons why it did. But Todd Mitchem’s and O.penVAPE’s inability to admit that the original drug testing policy wasn’t just ineffective at policing workplace impairment, but was morally wrong and a public-relations disaster, makes me wonder if they’ve learned anything from the ordeal.