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Amazon has stopped testing job seekers for cannabis use: Here’s what it means for you

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Amazon recently announced that they will no longer test most of their job seekers for cannabis. In the same blog post, they also announced their support of the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021,) a bill that would legalize marijuana at the federal level.

“Because we know that this issue is bigger than Amazon, our public policy team will be actively supporting The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act)—federal legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge criminal records, and invest in impacted communities,” Amazon stated on a company blog post. “We hope that other employers will join us, and that policymakers will act swiftly to pass this law.”

The company said some roles may still require a cannabis test, particularly those in line with Department of Transportation regulations. Amazon will still test workers for other drugs and conduct “impairment checks” on the job.

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The move to cease testing job seekers for cannabis use had become all but necessary for the international company. One in three Americans now live in a state where cannabis is legal, and those states are introducing laws barring employers from testing for cannabis, making company policies on the issue for multi-state operators increasingly complex. In March, a man in New York sued Amazon, claiming that they rescinded his job offer at an Amazon warehouse because he tested positive for THC. In New York, employers cannot legally test job applicants for cannabis.

Amazon is the second-largest private employer in the US, so the decision, combined with their public support of the MORE Act, is bound to have ripple effects.

According to Kimberly Harding, employment attorney at Nixon Peabody, other companies will likely to follow Amazon’s footsteps in ceasing to test job seekers for cannabis, if only for the reason that it will make company policies more consistent.

“For nationwide employers like Amazon, the decision to stop testing for marijuana is becoming recommended course,” Harding told GreenState. “There’s such a hodgepodge of state laws on this subject now that companies may see eliminating it on a national level will make things simpler and more consistent. It’s likely to become the path of least resistance.”

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In a way, Amazon is pioneering cannabis acceptance in big business the same way Colorado pioneered legalizing recreational cannabis at the state level. They are not the first major company to ditch cannabis testing, but they may just be the most influential.

But with great power comes great responsibility. On one hand, the decision will open the labor market significantly for Amazon, at a time when the labor force is still suffering from the impact of COVID-19. This increase of the company’s job candidate pool also gives Amazon the opportunity to diversify its workforce, a small step in the right direction for a company whose approach to racial issues has recently fallen under scrutiny.

On the other hand, there’s a downside to being the guinea pig. Amazon is the largest company to stop cannabis testing in the US, and therefore risks the most if they fail to set clear parameters for employees using cannabis recreationally, says cannabis attorney Yvette McDowell.

“I’m afraid it could cause legal complications, as well as problems and confusion for employees,” McDowell told GreenState. “We don’t have the knowledge of cannabis or the technology to say what qualifies as intoxication, and the amount of THC it takes for someone to be obviously high will be different for each employee. Forklift drivers may smoke before coming in because they don’t think they’ll be ‘intoxicated,’ and then you open the floodgates for a lot of lawsuits. We’re not ready for this, and I think companies who follow suit will do it at their own peril.”

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Whether a success or failure in the long run, the results of Amazon’s decision have been nothing but positive for cannabis enthusiasts so far. In the days following the announcement, cannabis stocks skyrocketed. A writer at Forbes called it the “missing link” for legalizing cannabis nationally.

While Harding is less certain on this front, she said it’s possible that Amazon’s support for the MORE Act will be what pushes it through.

“What Amazon’s backing of the MORE Act has done is indicate that a big, familiar businesses is supporting this bill,” Harding said. “Amazon sells universally legitimate products that all legislators will recognize, and this shows it’s not just cannabis businesses who want this bill passed. That gives it a lot more credibility.”

Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to elli.esher@hearst.com.