If you are planning on changing jobs soon, or perhaps you have a big interview coming up, you might not need to worry about passing a drug screen. At the very least, you won’t need to worry about one of the seven panels employers screen for with new hires.
Attitudes toward marijuana use are changing in some job sectors, especially in a labor market that favors workers over employers in Missouri.
In an effort to save time and resources — and fill positions — staffing executive Nancy Riggs said some employers are skipping drug tests altogether.
Riggs is the regional vice president of Penmac Staffing Services, Inc. As one of Springfield’s two main staffing agencies, Penmac is a leader in helping companies find truck drivers, manufacturing workers, office workers and substitute teachers.
“Employers have removed drug screening from their screening process because they are afraid they won’t be able to hire,” Riggs said.
Even if they do spend the money to test new hires, Riggs said employers are looking the other way on marijuana use, especially with medical marijuana (MMJ) use becoming more prominent each month.
“I’m not going to name names, but they do not look at marijuana,” Riggs said. “They’ll look at all of the other things on the panel, but if you test positive for marijuana, whether you have a card or not, they’re still employing you.”
Marijuana use is prolific in Greene County
As of the end of May 2022, Greene County had a population of 298,915 people, of which 11,515 are medical marijuana cardholders, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. That means about 3.85 percent of Greene County’s population, almost 1 in 25 people, has the legal means to buy and consume marijuana.
(Source: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Graphic by Shannon Cay Bowers)
Twelve medical marijuana dispensaries are licensed to operate in Springfield, and a pretty big chunk of their customers are new to using the drug, according to Cody Shackelton, Inventory Specialist for the local dispensary Farmer’s Wife.
“I would say maybe 20 percent are total newbies,” Shackelton said. “That was something that was surprising to me when I first started. You know, a lot of the people will have tried it in the past, but they maybe don’t know where to get it anymore. They just don’t have any connections, so it’s kind of a nerve-wracking experience for them because they don’t want to sound dumb. They don’t want to ask silly questions.”
David Brodsky, director of retail for the Farmer’s Wife, helps make sure each employee has a good working knowledge of the products so that they can make informed recommendations to clients. On a recent Thursday afternoon, a steady stream of customers come through the dispensary. Most of them are men. Some of them disclose their reason for having a medical marijuana card to the ‘budtenders,’ an industry term for counter employees. Others know what they want and make their visits brief.
“All walks of life, all demographics, lower class, middle class, upper class, you name it,” Brodsky said. “Everyone’s got pain, and everyone is dealing with issues that they want to treat more holistically in a more natural way.”
Generational attitudes are changing
Dr. James Kaatz is a professor at Missouri State University and helps train the human resources professionals of the next generation. What older business owners and hiring managers have to understand, Kaatz said, is that marijuana is prevalent in just about every corner of Springfield.
“Marijuana is out there, and it just is,” Kaatz said. “I don’t care if it’s recreational; if it’s medical. You ask any kid right now, they can get you some weed in about 15 minutes.”
So when it comes time to hire people, especially in a business that is growing quickly, Kaatz said employers should consider if scrutinizing marijuana use is worth eliminating candidates for.
“I would really look at my positions in my organization and really decide, ‘Am I willing to wash someone out because of a marijuana thing?’ In other words, ‘Am I going to put it out there that we’re going to drug screen everyone and if you fail a marijuana test, you’re not going to be welcome to work here?’” Kaatz said.
Kaatz told a story about taking a group of Missouri State University students to Amsterdam, where marijuana use is socially accepted in public places. He watched and eavesdropped as some of his students bought some marijuana and attempted to roll a joint. He then recounted how two Dutch men, spotting American girls in distress, came to their aid and offered to roll the joint.
“They smoked their weed and that was that,” Kaatz said. “Then we got on the tram the next morning. The tram driver was one of the dudes who was smoking weed with them the night before.”
Kaatz, for the record, said he felt safe riding the tram in question, as he trusted that the driver was not under the influence at the time of the ride.
“It’s not in his system, he’s not high, he’s driving the tram,” Kaatz said. “What about the dude who is hungover because he drank too much last night driving the same tram? Whose tram do you want to be on?”
Kaatz said as human resources manager, he never had any tolerance for people who showed up for work under the influence of any substance.
Drug screens used as paper tigers
Mothers Brewing Company founder and owner Jeff Schrag has a funny story about drug testing that ultimately led him to have to replace a trusted employee. Another employer lured her away from the brewery with a big pay raise.
“I lost a great employee to a corporate job that was more than doubling her pay — nothing I could do,” Schrag said. “She came to tell me and she goes, ‘And I have not smoked marijuana for a month because they’re going to make me take a test.’ I said, ‘When you fail that test, your job is open.’”
Schrag got another round of laughs as he told the story at a Springfield Chamber of Commerce-sponsored panel discussion when he explained what happened next. He called his former employee every other week for six weeks, checking to see if she had failed a drug screen and would be willing to come back to work at his company.
“‘Have you failed your test yet?’ And they never tested her,” Schrag said. “It was a bluff. And she realized, ‘Okay, I’m going to start smoking marijuana again. They’re not going to test me.’ Interesting tactic, and they snagged her.”
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Testing still happens in some lines of work
Some jobs, like truck driving jobs that require drivers to pass a U.S. Department of Transportation-approved physical, still screen out marijuana users. Under federal law, marijuana remains illegal.
“There are some true safety-sensitive positions out there, so if someone did have a card or they did test positive, you want to be really careful there,” Riggs said.
Springfield Director of Workforce Development Sally Payne said parts of job descriptions are often written with input from a corporation’s legal team.
“Some people even run their policies through a medical review officer because some of it is very liability heavy, especially manufacturing, construction — that’s heavy liability — and the health profession,” Payne said.
Some hiring managers, especially those who are up against workforce shortages or have dozens of positions to fill, have to adjust their thinking about a marijuana user’s ability to perform certain tasks.
Local laws and marijuana use
State law bans marijuana consumption in public places, including businesses, schools, parks, bridges, streets and sidewalks. Nothing in state law permits a person to operate or be in control of a vehicle “while under the influence of marijuana.”
Missouri’s medical marijuana law does not change criminal laws governing marijuana use for nonmedical reasons. Only licensed dispensaries may sell marijuana to patients who qualify. Dispensaries may only accept marijuana permits issued in Missouri. All sales of medical marijuana, including sales to licensed caregivers, are subject to the statewide “track and trace” system.
A physician may certify that a patient may possess up to 4 ounces of dried, unprocessed marijuana in a 30-day period. In the event that a patient is prescribed an amount of marijuana greater than 4 ounces in 30 days, the Department of Health and Senior Services requires orders from two independent physicians — in layman’s terms, a documented second opinion.
At the dispensary, Shackelton said most customers don’t come near the 4-ounces-per-month limit, but there are some who do.
“Some people buy on the first of the month,” Shackelton said. “If you buy all 4 ounces on the first, come back on the first of the next month, and then you can purchase again. If you kind of break it up — like if you do 2 ounces on the first, 2 ounces on the 15th — it’s based on the day that you purchase.”
Qualifying medical conditions
Per Article XIV of the Missouri Constitution, a Missourian may qualify for medical marijuana purchasing if they experience:
- Intractable migraines unresponsive to other treatment
- Chronic medical conditions that cause severe, persistent pain or muscle spasms
- Debilitating psychiatric disorders, including PTSD. Such disorders must be diagnosed by a state-licensed psychiatrist.
- HIV or AIDS
- Chronic medical conditions normally treated with prescription medications that could lead to physical or psychological dependence
- Terminal illness
- Hepatitis C
- Others include: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, Huntington’s disease, autism, neuropathies, sickle cell anemia, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, cachexia and wasting syndrome