As the number of cannabis-friendly states across the U.S. has grown, so, too, has the drug’s usage among American workers.
An annual analysis from Quest Diagnostics medical lab and testing company shows the percentage of general U.S. employees, who tested positive for cannabis in 2022 reached the highest level ever recorded by Quest, which began analyzing annual workplace drug testing data in 1988.
Of the more than 6 million urine tests Quest analyzed in 2022 for marijuana use in the general worker category — which excludes federally mandated, safety-sensitive workers such as pilots, truck drivers who undergo routine drug testing — 4.3% were positive, up from 3.9% in 2021. That marks the highest number of positive test results for marijuana ever recorded by Quest, which began analyzing annual workplace drug testing data in 1988. The number of general workers who tested positive for marijuana following an on-the-job accident in 2022 was 7.3%, compared with 6.7% in 2021 — the highest level in 25 years.
“This historic rise seems to correspond with sharp increases in positivity for marijuana in both pre-employment and post-accident drug tests, suggesting that changing societal attitudes about marijuana may be impacting workplace behaviors,” Keith Ward, general manager and vice president for employer solutions at Quest Diagnostics, said in a statement.
More workers in federally mandated safety-sensitive jobs also tested positive for marijuana usage. Within this group, .98% tested positive for cannabis nationally, compared with 0.86% in 2021.
Increased legalization, increased use
“In the general U.S. workforce, states that have legalized recreational and medical marijuana use exhibit higher positivity rates than the national average. States that have not legalized marijuana appear to have positivity rates below the national averages,” said Suhash Harwani, Ph.D, who is the senior director of science for employer solutions at Quest Diagnostics.
In states where recreational use of marijuana is legal, 5.7% of the general U.S. workforce tested positive for marijuana in 2022, versus the 4.3% national average that same year. Marijuana positivity among the general workforce in states where medical marijuana is legal was below the national average, at 3.9% in 2022.
Cannabis first became legal for recreational use at the state level in Washington and Colorado in 2012. Since then, 21 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports. Medicinal cannabis is also currently legal in 38 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia.
The weed industry’s massive push to ramp up its lobbying efforts over the past decade has powered the breakneck pace at which states have legalized cannabis. In 2022, the cannabis industry spent more than $5 million to fund its lobbying efforts in Washington D.C., up from just $35,000 in 2011, disclosures from OpenSecrets show.
Other drugs in the workplace
Despite a notable uptick in workers’ marijuana use, overall drug use among all categories of U.S. employees was unchanged at 4.6% in 2022, Quest data shows. However, the 2021 and 2022 positivity rates are the highest since 2001. Amphetamine use rose one-fifth of a percentage point to 1.5% from 2021 to 2022, with the highest increase found among employees in the Education Services, at 2.1%.
Quest’s testing does not differentiate between legally prescribed amphetamines, such as Adderall, and illicit formulations and illegal uses of that particular class of drugs.
“The increase in amphetamines positivity is also notable, given the addictive potential and health risks associated with this class of drugs,” Ward said.
Drug-Screening Drop Off
In recent years, drug screening has become less popular among some American employers.
A Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of roughly 80,000 private-sector employers shows 16.1% of respondents reported testing their employees for drugs in 2021, down from 30% in 1996.