It’s 2016, the marijuana legalization movement is in full swing, even non users are softening their stance on marijuana, and yet you can still lose out on a job opportunity or get fired for testing positive for THC.

Why is it that a raging alcoholic can pass a typical drug screen but a pot smoker cannot?

It’s pretty simple:  the typical employment drug panel tests for THC, Cocaine, PCP, Opiates, Amphetamines and other illegal substances.  Alcohol is usually not on the list.  While there are some employment screens that test for alcohol, they are rare compared to those that test for THC.

But isn’t drug screening supposed to be about testing for impairment, regardless of the drug?

Well yes and no.

While our society has very strict and justifiable laws against drunk driving, apparently it’s not as egregious to operate a meat slicer with a horrendous hangover.  At the same time, however, employers are terrified of someone using the same meat slicer after an all night bong session.

Speaking from experience, I will definitely say that someone just 3 hours removed from an all night bong session should not operate a meat slicer but neither should someone who drank a quart of vodka before going to bed.  Employers tend to test for the former and not for the latter.  It seems very inconsistent from a workplace policy standpoint.

The Real Reasons Employers Test for THC and not Alcohol


Recreational alcohol is legal pretty much everywhere and recreational marijuana is legal in only a handful of places.  Right or wrong, many employers have the perception, and some say the evidence,  that a person willing to use any illegal substance outside of work is more likely to do something illegal or policy breaking at work.

Social Norms

Despite the growing social acceptance of recreational marijuana, the Old School is still alive and well…and powerful.  To put it bluntly (pardon the pun), many corporate decision makers still lump potheads in with druggies, neither of which they want associated with their organization.  Executives discuss this concern in depth over their 3 martini lunches.

The Drug Testing Industry

Most employers do not do their own drug testing. They outsource it to the very lucrative drug testing industry which is represented by DATIA (the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association).

DATIA is very effective at convincing employers that they employ pot smokers at their own peril.  They cite research from “credentialed authorities” to convince employers that THC testing is a crucial component of any drug screening program.  The following are but a few of the many reasons to test for marijuana use, according to DATIA:

  • Smoking marijuana can lead to mental illness, heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
  • Marijuana use can cause permanent brain damage in teenagers and young adults.
  • Marijuana impaired driving doubles the risk of a crash.
  • Marijuana use causes impairment for at least 24 hours and can last for days.
  • Marijuana is not safer or less problematic than alcohol.


Now I know from my own experience that excessive marijuana use can indeed impair your ability to think sharply or react quickly.  Where I take umbrage with DAITA is that don’t seem to distinguish between occasional marijuana use and frequent marijuana use.

They also seem to selectively use research to justify their claims just as the Pro-Marijuana Legalization lobby selectively uses research to justify their claims.

Drug Testing from the Employers’ Perspective

Employers sustain profits by minimizing costs and they do this through employees who are efficient, productive, alert, and observant.  Any sort of impairment from any sort of substance use decreases productivity in various ways to various degrees.

Very few companies do anything for very long that reduces profits.  Their very existence depends on making money.  Therefore, it is highly unlikely that any employer would do drug testing unless their own data led them to believe that drug testing (including THC testing) saves them money.  Yes, they have to pay for the drug testing program but only because it’s an investment that flows to the bottom line in the long run.

A lot of people argue that employers who test for THC are missing out on great employees who could make significant contributions to their enterprise.  This very well may be, and probably is, true in certain instances.  On the aggregate though, employers who test for THC are convinced that doing so makes for an overall stronger and more profitable workforce. Otherwise, they wouldn’t give a damn what you do in your spare time.

Marijuana Drug Testing and You

So is it fair that the town drunk can pass a drug test that you can’t just because you like to mellow out with Mary Jane at the end of each day?  Do we really have to get into that?

It is what it is.

Just because your pee has THC in it doesn’t mean you have an addiction problem with marijuana and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re too impaired to do your job.

On the other hand, if you know your company tests for drugs or if there’s even the remotest possibility you will be looking for a new job in the next 6 months but you continue to smoke anyway, well, could it be time to evaluate why you smoke the stuff in the first place?

Smoke marijuana everyday on one hand vs. new higher paying job on the other.  Hmmm, which is better?  There’s no right or wrong answer.  It’s totally your choice.

Some people find it easy to stop smoking long enough to take a drug test, others don’t.  If you happen to be in the latter category, consider our resources page, there could be something there to help you quit permanently or at least long enough to pass the next drug test.