Pre-Employment Drug Screening & Medical Marijuana

Last Updated on May 24, 2022 by Mark Conklin, RN, MHA

It can be worrisome to a medical marijuana user when it comes to employment. We’ve come a long way in what we know about marijuana and its effects and benefits. So, in 2021, will the employer fault you for a failed drug test when you’re taking marijuana for your medical ailments?

Failing a pre-employment drug screening may not be an immediate no-hire, but there are some caveats.

Here, we will go over what these pre-employment drug screening tests are looking for, the reason employers give them, state laws pertaining to medical marijuana, the rules relating to employers, and if you can expect to get the job if you test positive.

What Do Pre-Employment Drug Tests Look For?

According to Healthline, in a urine screening, the drugs the company is testing for the presence of are:

  • amphetamines
  • methamphetamines
  • benzodiazepines
  • barbiturates
  • marijuana
  • cocaine
  • PCP
  • methadone
  • opioids (narcotics)

In some screenings, they also test for alcohol presence.

Why Do Employers Conduct Drug Tests?

Whether a urine drug test, saliva test, blood test, or even a hair sample, an employer may want to conduct a pre-employment drug screen for many reasons. 

Often, companies have policies against drug use for health and safety reasons, as well as legal liabilities. The number one reason is safety, and the employer wants to be sure that everyone is protected at all times.

There’s an overwhelming sentiment that marijuana, even for medical purposes, leads to job risks because of impaired judgment and a lack of employee focus. For this reason, in jobs that require the use of machinery or the operation of vehicles, drug tests are almost always mandatory – both pre-employment and regularly during employment.

Some states actually allow employers to prohibit medical marijuana use. Other states consider it discrimination. It is forbidden to not hire someone in these states due to their marijuana use when they have a qualifying condition and have obtained a medical marijuana card.

State Laws for Medical Marijuana Use

Marijuana laws change rapidly in the United States. The constant updates are due mainly to the increasing research on medical benefits. According to a Gallup poll of 1,000 adults in the United States, 64% believe the government should completely legalize marijuana. Of those in support, 86% say their reason for siding with legalization is to support its medicinal use.

In some states, marijuana, even for medical use, is entirely illegal. As of November 2020, these states are:

  • Alabama
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Wyoming

However, in North Carolina and Nebraska, while marijuana is illegal, it is decriminalized. This doesn’t mean you can’t get in trouble. It means the state has specific possession amounts that are treated as a non-criminal.

In other states, marijuana is fully legal (*or is pending enactment), even for recreational use. These states and territories include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona*
  • California
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana*
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota*
  • Vermont
  • Washington

And in some states, marijuana is illegal for recreational use but legal for medicinal use once you’ve spoken with a certified medical marijuana physician. The physician will determine eligibility and help you to obtain a special card through the state. These include New York and Florida, among many others.

Now that we have a briefing on the marijuana laws, do any laws relate to the employer’s ability to require a passed drug test?

If Marijuana Is Legal, Can Employers Test For It?

Regardless of whether or not marijuana is fully legal, illegal, or medicinally legal, it is up to the employer’s discretion in many states. They may decide to do pre-employment drug screening no matter what, as it is not forbidden. The only laws are around what they can and can’t do about a positive test.

According to California NORML, which is a non-profit dedicated to California’s marijuana law reformation, the following states prohibit employment discrimination for using medical marijuana (* particular circumstances may apply): Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine*, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada*, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island even go as far as to say that a positive drug test is not indicative of impairment.

In New York City, laws were recently passed that legally ban an employer from denying a job applicant work based solely on a failed marijuana drug screening. 

Washington, DC has also recently approved protection for cannabis users in the workplace. And San Francisco has had protection since 1985 against job discrimination for marijuana positivity.

Above all, it is not illegal for your employer to give you a pre-employment drug screening. Remember, marijuana is not the only drug or chemical the test is screening for.

However, it is unlawful in the states mentioned above for your employer to discriminate against you for marijuana presence. Keep in mind; that in the states where marijuana is not legal for recreational use, they may require a valid medical marijuana card for this protection to apply.

Can I Still Get the Job if I Test Positive for Marijuana?

There are always several other caveats. For one, marijuana is still federally classed as an illegal substance. So if a federally-controlled company were to give you a pre-employment drug screening, whether you have a medical marijuana card or not will likely mean nothing. You are much more likely to be declined a job in this case.

For positions that require the use of heavy machinery, vehicles, or it would otherwise be a considerable safety hazard to have anything that can impair you in your system, testing negative may still be a requirement, and in these cases, you are not likely to be hired.

Above all, except where you are legally protected or the job has certain requirements, it will ultimately come down to the employer’s discretion and your state’s laws.

It’s always best to visit your own state government’s website to verify your area’s regulations, as they can change and update very often. You can find a dropdown of states with all relevant information pertaining to laws here.

THC physicians are here to help people in New York and Florida receive the medical treatment they need. If you have any questions about getting a marijuana card, please browse our how-to page for more information or contact us if there is anything we can answer for you!

Howard Seth Meiselman, DO

Medically reviewed by Howard Seth Meiselman, DO — Written by Mark Conklin 

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Mark Conklin, RN, MHA

Mark Conklin is the founder and CEO of Tierra Healthcare Concepts and is also part of the medical team. He has over 25 years of experience in the healthcare field working at the executive management level and as a medical professional. Education RN, BS Biology, and Master of Health Administration course curriculum.

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