California NORML Takes on Drug Testing

CANNABIS CULTURE – Despite growing public support for marijuana legalization, US drug warriors, some of them with not-so-vested interests, are seeking to tighten the screws on consumers by imposing new and tougher drug testing rules that have nothing to do with safety or impairment.

It’s been suggested in Colorado that employers will still be able to drug test and fire employees for marijuana, despite the state making pot legal last November. The 5 ng per se standard for THC DUIs looks ready to pass in Colorado, and was part of the legalization measure that passed in Washington.

Several states continue to move towards drug testing welfare recipients, in spite of a decision in Florida siding with human rights. Workers are beginning to wonder why they have fewer rights than do those on welfare. Only those in innovative industries seem to escape: Business Week recently noticed that Silicon Valley workers avail themselves of San Jose medical marijuana dispensaries in large numbers.

In a story with some legs, USA Today picked up on the news that Robert L. DuPont, who was White House drug czar under Presidents Nixon and Ford, and Peter Bensinger, who was administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration in the 1970s, today run Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, a company that specializes in workplace drug testing. Both men signed an open letter addressed to Senate Judiciary Committee members criticizing the Obama administration for failing to quickly address Colorado and Washington’s new laws.

In California, Senator Lou Correa is again sponsoring a “zero tolerance” drug DUI bill (SB 289) that would outlaw driving by anyone with traces of marijuana or other drugs in their blood. Because marijuana’s active component, THC, is typically detectable in the blood for hours or days after any impairment has faded, the bill would effectively criminalize thousands of non-impaired drivers as DUI. The Correa bill will see a Senate Public Safety Hearing on April 23 in Sacramento.

The scientific facts and fallacies about drug testing are explained in California NORML’s newly published booklet, California NORML Guide to Drug Testing, available through The guide covers the reliability and sensitivity of different kinds of tests, their relevance to impairment and performance, how to deal with abusive testing, and drug testing’s capricious and discriminatory impact on consumers, medical and otherwise.

Unlike the alcohol breathalzyer, chemical tests for marijuana have no clear relation to impairment or safety. Blood tests for THC, unlike alcohol, do not measure the actual dosage consumed or active in the body. Instead, they reflect recency of use, spiking to high levels immediately after smoking regardless of actual dosage, then tailing off to low levels that can nonetheless be detectable for days after last use. “In effect, SB 289 is equivalent to calling drivers DUI if they’ve had had a glass of beer or wine in the past few hours, or left an empty bottle in their trash,” says Cal NORML director Dale Gieringer.

Accident studies have found that drivers who test positive for marijuana often show no signs of impairment, and in some instances even may drive more safely. Regular users, such as most medical marijuana patients, often develop tolerance and may drive safely despite having high levels of marijuana in their system.

The U.S National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls it “inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone,” noting that “concentrations of parent drug and metabolite are very dependent on pattern of use as well as dose.” [NHTSA 2013].

Advocates of “zero tolerance” DUI laws have sought to stir up public fears of increased marijuana accidents on the road. Such fears are belied by accident statistics, which show that highway safety has improved steadily over the years even while access to marijuana has expanded. In California, highway fatality rates have posted record lows in recent years, and DUI arrests have likewise been on the decline. Studies have found no evidence that strict per se DUI drug testing limits have any impact on highway safety.

Neither is there any good evidence that drug testing is needed to protect workplace safety or productivity. Unlike other medical devices and drugs, which are required to be proven as “safe and effective” in extensive, rigorously controlled, double-blind studies, no such studies have ever been conducted in the case of drug testing. Ironically, while the federal government continues to ban Americans from using marijuana for medicine on the grounds it isn’t FDA approved, it is forcing them to submit to drug tests that have never been FDA tested as safe or effective for improving safety or productivity.

NORML constantly hears from responsible consumers, including seriously ill medical marijuana patients, who have been unfairly barred from employment, housing assistance, child custody, and medical treatment because of abusive drug testing.

“Americans need to stand up for personal privacy and freedom from drug testing,” says Gieringer. “In no other nation is drug testing so widely abused. Drug testing is a scientifically unproven technology that impinges on the privacy of millions of Americans. If Americans are seriously worried about drug impairment, they should consider performance tests that measure actual impairment.”

Ellen Komp is Deputy Director of California NORML and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website and blogs at Tokin Woman.



  1. Bhonze on

    Fuck that Dick! My company doesn’t drug test unless you get hurt on the job. You can tell if an employee is under the influence and you don’t need to waste money on these wasteful drug test. This is just more Communism!

  2. Ray on

    Having consumed alcohol in vast quantities as well as cannabis, I can say my performance working at blue chip companies was severely impaired the day after getting drunk compared to smoking cannabis the night before. Alcohol, by far, is the worse out of the two. Reading your comment just shows you don’t use Cannabis. Ignorant at best mate!

  3. Anonymous on

    First off, companies are not trying to destroy lives. Companies are trying to survive and make a profit.
    If a person has created a company and an income for it’s employees and has a drug testing program that tests for marijuana, find another company that you would rather work for that does not test for marijuana. Or better yet, invest your own money and create and build a company where you hire drug users to provide the services that you provide.
    I really don’t care, but if someone who invests, creates a means that they make money, then hire other people who want to earn an income for their purposes, they should be able to dictate the type of workers they want helping, drug-free or stoned.

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  5. Anonymous UK on

    The general public is now accepting that marijuana is not that bad but has been given a totally unjustified bad reputation. Build on this by suggesting politicians are corrupt and those involved in prohibition are profiteering from it and you will be leaning on an open door. People love a scandal of corruption involving those in power – it should just about finish them off.

  6. Anonymous on

    Burn them to the ground if you want, but save your piss. Someone who doesn’t deserve to burn might need it.

  7. Anonymous on

    Those company that make money by destroying other people lives for ingesting something in there own body should be burnt to the ground and piss on.