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Pot Legalization Means Fewer Firms Reject People Who Fail Drug Tests

Workers at Wyatt Bassett's furniture factory in Virginia use powerful tools to churn out dressers and headboards, so screening new hires for drugs is necessary, or it used to be. Virginia last year fully legalized marijuana — the first state in the South to do so.

Now, "being positive for cannabis does not necessarily disqualify you for employment," said Bassett, CEO of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co., with 575 employees. Faced with a shortfall in applicants, employers across the U.S. are balancing pressure to ease up on testing for a legal drug with concerns that this could affect safety and raise issues of liability, Reuters reports.

The U.S. jobless rate rose to 3.7 percent last month, but it remains near a five-decade low. "With the war for talent and the labor shortage, especially in some lower paying jobs, it's tough to find and retain folks — so many are deciding to not test, except for safety sensitive jobs," said Julie Schweber of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Companies with multiple operations in different parts of the U.S. face an added challenge because laws differ from state to state.

The challenge of balancing workplace safety and the growing prevalence and legalization of some drugs is acute for manufacturers and others who use dangerous equipment. said positive tests for marijuana use would no longer disqualify people from jobs that are not regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, such as truck drivers.

The e-commerce giant said it will treat cannabis like alcohol, even though traces of its use linger in the human body far longer and can show up on some types of tests after a worker is no longer impaired by its use.

Data from Quest Diagnostics, which handles testing for companies, show a steady increase in positivity rates for marijuana tests over the past decade — coinciding with the wave of legalization. In 2012, only 1.9 percent of workers not subject to federally mandated drug testing requirements failed a pre-employment screening. Last year, that had grown to 4.1 percent. The jump in positive tests after accidents grew more during that period, up from 2.4 percent to 6.7 percent.

Cannabis use for medical reasons is legal in 37 states, while recreational use is legal in 19. Quest's data also show that states that allow recreational use of cannabis have higher positivity rates.


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