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Is Workplace Marijuana Testing a Boondoggle or Money Saver?

Photo of a small marijuana plant in Oakland, Calif. by Tony Avelar/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images.

Name: Patricia Schwarz

Question: Has pre-employment urine screening for marijuana actually helped businesses save money? According to studies done for the NAS back in the ’90s, the answer is NO. What do you say? Is this a boondoggle for drug testing companies or a concretely measurable asset to our national prosperity and economic security?

Paul Solman: Ah, finally! A subject about which I know more than anyone around: urine screening for marijuana. Urine screening for marijuana??? Is it a boondoggle? I’m not even sure if NAS stands for the National Academy of Science or the rapper who feuded with Jay-Z in the early 2000’s.

I guess I can try to answer your question, though: Urine screening for marijuana is unlikely to be a major “concretely measurable asset to our national prosperity and economic security.” Does it meet the key criterion of economics — providing benefits greater than its costs? Damned if I know. But in my experience, workplace productivity is generally not a long suit of the stoned. And I am familiar with a couple of recent cases involving young men where smoking marijuana has seemed to induce something like psychosis. That’s what one of them insists, anyway. My own trials with the much milder grass of nearly 50 years ago makes his testimony not implausible.

If urine screening for marijuana were to discourage marijuana use, then, maybe it has some hidden benefits. That’s not something I would have thought decades ago. But as to the value of testing in the workplace, net net (i.e., bottom line, after all costs and benefits are reckoned), you’ll have to ask elsewhere. The answer may well depend upon which NAS you consult.

This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions

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