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Jun 23, 2021 3 min read

In legal weed states, employees are failing drug tests at record pace

author
by Ben Hartman
Fast food employee laughs at work

The number of employees testing positive for cannabis has soared over the past decade, especially in states with legal recreational marijuana, a recent report found. 

The 2021 Drug Testing Index carried out by Quest Diagnostics found that in states with legalized recreational marijuana, positivity rates for marijuana testing rose 118.2% from 2012 to 2020 (from 2.2% to 4.8%). In states with only medical programs or where marijuana is not legal at all, positive test rates also rose, but by roughly half that amount. 

“Our data suggest that marijuana positivity has increased sharply nationwide since states began to legalize marijuana in 2012. However, it appears that states where medical marijuana use alone is legal are not experiencing much higher rates of increase than states where neither medical nor recreational use is legal,” According to Dr. Barry Sample, Ph.D., senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics.

Sample added that “driven largely by surging rates of marijuana general U.S. workforce positives and steady rates of amphetamines positives, the rate of drug positivity remained stubbornly high despite seismic shifts to the workplace caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”  

The figures were based on 7 million urine tests collected between January and December 2000 by Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest diagnostic laboratories in the United States. 

Food service workers test positive the most

According to the findings, accommodation and food service workers led the pack in marijuana test positivity, with a 6.3% positivity rate in 2020. The study found that this represented a 21.6% increase over 2019 for that sector, which has been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The sector that had the highest increase was finance and insurance, which saw a 50% marijuana positivity increase from 2019 to 2020, and stands at a little over 3% positivity. 

Overall, the study found a 16% increase in marijuana positivity among the general workforce in 2020, to 3.6% from 3.1% in 2019. Since 2016, the positivity has increased 44%, the report states.

A look at a map produced by Quest Diagnostics makes it clear that there are stark differences in positivity between states with legalized recreational marijuana, and those without. For instance, in Texas, where there is no legal recreational or medical marijuana, the marijuana positivity rate was 2.1%. In Nevada, which has legal recreational and medical marijuana, the rate stood at 6.6%. Furthermore, if one looks at neighboring Oklahoma, a state that doesn’t have legal recreational marijuana but does have a robust medical marijuana program, the positivity stood at 4.8%, well over twice that of Texas. 

The report reveals other interesting findings, including that while the education sector had among the lowest rates of positivity for marijuana, it also had the highest amphetamine positivity rate in 2020, at 1.7%, a 6.3% increase over 2019. 

More employees got high at work during the pandemic 

The findings in the Quest Diagnostics report are consistent with those of a report published in November 2020 that found an increase in the number of employees who said they got high during work hours since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

According to the online survey carried out by SoapBoxSample, 46% of respondents said they had increased their cannabis consumption since lockdowns and social distancing began in early Spring 2020. 

More than one-third of the respondents said that cannabis helps them stay motivated or relieves anxiety, while 69% said it helps them unwind after work. 

The results of the survey were published the same week as a report by New Frontier Data that found that 42% of respondents to their survey reported that they had increased their cannabis consumption during the pandemic. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, the group that reported the highest increase was parents living with children under the age of 18, 56% of whom reported increasing their cannabis use.

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