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Privacy arguments aside—should employers really be in the business of demanding body fluids from their workers?—this testing is expensive and does not effectively screen for good employees. In fact, it probably doesn’t effectively screen for drug users. Yet companies continue to drug test potential employees, even in states where medical marijuana is legal.
Even back in 1999, when pot legalization was nothing more than a pipe dream, an ACLU study concluded that drug tests were overly expensive and a poor indicator of workplace performance because they don’t test for impairments. Drug tests search for drug metabolites, which are by-products excreted from the body after a drug has been ingested. This means test might catch a person who used an illicit substance in the recent past but probably not a person who is under the influence during the taking of the test; it takes a few hours for drug metabolites to appear in urine. Tests are arguably more likely to catch occasional users than drug abusers.
Even if an employer wanted to keep drug testing employees for substances other than marijuana, they are unlikely to catch them. Pot stays in the body the longest of any classified drug and can show up in urine tests weeks or months after it’s used. Cocaine can pass through the system in as little as one to three days, and meth can leave the body in one to five days, though this varies slightly depending on age and usage.
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