Is Cannabis Use the Same as Off-duty Drinking by Workers? Many Companies Still Say No

By Valentina Sanchez, CNBC

An employee has a beer or two with colleagues at a local bar after the work shift is over. Another heads home for a glass of wine with dinner. The next day, there is no alcohol impairment in the worker, and that’s why an employer would not have a problem with either of these scenarios. But even in states where cannabis has been legalized, drug testing continues to search for signs of marijuana use that in no way necessarily reflects worker impairment.

THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, can linger in the body and show up in the screening process for up to 30 days after the immediate impairment of the user. Traditional THC screening cannot differentiate between actual impairment and presence due to past use of cannabis. Equating presence to impairment groups all individuals — those who use marijuana on a daily basis, for medical or recreational purposes, and those who sporadically do it — in the same category.

Backers of legalization say that is unfair and the world of work needs to adapt to changing societal norms regarding cannabis.

“There are some states, like California, where employers are completely allowed to sanction based on a drug test, even medical marijuana patients,” said Tamar Todd, vice-chair of the California Cannabis Advisory Committee and lecturer on marijuana law and policy at Berkeley Law. “An employer can basically refuse to hire you or discipline you for a positive THC in your blood even if you’re a lawful medical marijuana patient using lawfully under state law. And the legislature has not changed that law yet.”

Employers view alcohol consumption off-duty differently from cannabis consumption, and it reflects on how they interpret drug test results and impairment, said Michelle Lee Flores, a Los Angeles-based partner with law firm Akerman.

“We get off work after a tough day, we have a glass of wine, and then go to sleep. If the next morning we were drug-tested at work, it would not show a positive level of alcohol in our system because we have honed those testings so that we can focus on the actual impairment,” said Lee Flores.

Positive results for marijuana are on the rise leading more job candidates to fail drug screens.

Sanchez, V. (2019). Is cannabis use the same as off-duty drinking by workers? Many companies still say no. CNBC. Retrieved from


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