Trade workers must be drug free

Legal or not, you’ll have to choose between a career and getting high.


We live in a society in which use of marijuana and other illegal drugs is widespread. One recent survey showed that about one out of 11 Americans uses illicit drugs regularly. Another says that 38% have tried marijuana at some point.

Many of you reading this no doubt are among those who regularly or occasionally use recreational drugs. This doesn’t make you a bad person. Our society has become much more tolerant of illicit drug use over the years. By their own admission, the last three Presidents of the United States have smoked pot and millions of Americans voted for them anyway.

Tolerance has reached a point that two states, Washington and Colorado, have made it completely legal for anyone over 21 to purchase and consume marijuana for recreational use. Many other states allow it for medicinal purposes – with many doctors willing to prescribe it for almost any real or imagined ailment.

However, tolerance has not extended to people who work in the trades. It’s not a moral issue. It’s simply that from a practical standpoint, drugs are incompatible with a trade career.

The reasoning is simple. Trade workers tamper with potentially dangerous mechanical and electrical systems. They operate power tools and often their jobs involve driving large vehicles. Individual rights take a back seat to safety considerations under these circumstances. The same prohibition applies to alcohol use as well as drugs, except with one key difference.

Alcohol disappears from your body pretty rapidly. You can get drunk on Sunday night and show up for work Monday morning perhaps nursing a hangover, but alcohol dissipates rather quickly from the bloodstream. If tested the morning after, you likely will not show an elevated percentage of alcohol in your system.

With marijuana, the most popular recreational drug by far, it takes around three weeks for the chemical residue to disappear, and there is no way of telling if consumption took place on or off duty. Cocaine and other illicit drugs also leave telltale signs for days or weeks afterward. Even if they want to look the other way, trade employers often are compelled by insurance or government regulations to dismiss any workers found with traces of drugs in their systems.

Most trade workers have to submit to urine tests for drugs at various times. Many insurance carriers require drug testing as a condition of employment with the construction or service firms they insure. Trade workers involved in a jobsite or vehicle accident usually are required to undergo a drug test shortly afterward. Some employers even do unannounced random testing.

You may argue that it’s unfair to lose a job for smoking a joint over the weekend when you were on your own time, and many people would agree with you. But many aspects of life are unfair and that’s the way it is. Until tests are devised that can measure when consumption occurred, the attitude among insurers and employers will remain “better safe than sorry.”

Even in the states where marijuana has become legal, court rulings have held that employers have the right to dismiss or avoid hiring workers who can’t pass drug screening. A parallel exists with alcohol, which is legal almost everywhere in the U.S., but no trade employer in his or her right mind would allow workers to booze it up on the job. Again, the only difference is that it’s hard to tell whether drug use occurred on the job or while off duty.

One reason there is such a shortage of skilled trade workers is because so many of them fail to pass muster with employment drug screening. Relatively few applicants actually fail their drug tests. Most simply fail to show up for the urinalysis because they know they wouldn’t pass or don’t bother applying for that reason.

And that leads to some good news. If you are a skilled trade worker who does not use drugs, or who can muster the willpower to quit, the job market is wide open for you. That’s because so many others who might be handy with the tools have toked and snorted themselves out of consideration.

The choice is yours. Would you rather get high, or enjoy a lucrative career?