From a Member’s Memo podcast with NDASA Executive Director Jo McGuire.*
From time to time, we receive calls from members questioning the National Drug and Alcohol Screening Association’s work in our nation’s capital and why our organization would need a Political Action Committee (PAC). It’s a reasonable question. Understandably, in light of the difficult political climate of recent years, many people would prefer to keep their professional association out of politics, especially when fundraising is involved.
In a perfect world, this political advocacy might not be necessary for an organization like NDASA. However, over decades in the drug and alcohol testing industry, NDASA leadership has learned it is critical to have a strong presence in Washington, D.C. if we want to be an effective voice for our industry and the right of employers to maintain safe and drug-free workplaces. Our PAC serves as a powerful tool for ensuring that legislators, regulators and other decision-makers listen to our members’ concerns.
I became aware of our industry’s urgent need for advocacy in 20212. As a Colorado resident and someone with extensive experience in educating employers in my state about workplace policies around medical marijuana, I was invited to serve on a governor’s task force responsible for implementing the regulatory framework for Amendment 64, which was Colorado’s Constitutional Amendment to make recreational marijuana legal.
My working group’s role on the task force was to help make sure that the new law would not encroach on the right of employers to keep their workplaces safe through drug testing for marijuana. I quickly became aware that the cannabis industry, and primarily attorneys representing the industry, were trying to eliminate this right via an aggressive information campaign discrediting marijuana testing. During my year on the task force, we were flooded with documentation denigrating marijuana testing as fundamentally flawed – documentation that was riddled with inaccuracies.
To understand where the misinformation was coming from, I started doing my own research. I took the documents to the labs, toxicologists and other experts in our industry and asked them: “Can you help me with this information? What is the source? Why does it say this? Is it true? If it isn’t, what is the truth? Can you provide me with the correct evidence and data, so I can shine a light on the situation?”
What I discovered was that I was far behind the curve in trying to set the record straight. For more than 20 years, the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, the lobbying group for the cannabis industry, had been quietly producing a trove of negative white papers, articles and blogs. These questioned the accuracy of marijuana testing and denied the impact of marijuana impairment and the possibility of abuse while arguing that drug testing is unfair and discriminatory. By the time we in the drug and alcohol testing industry became aware of the information campaign, a simple internet search could call up hundreds of thousands of articles supporting these false claims.
A Well-Funded Threat
Meanwhile, our industry was completely absent from the conversation. We had no public response and no published materials that could help inform people about how drug testing really works and that the data and science back up the efficacy and quality of workplace drug testing programs. Furthermore, professionals operating in our industry, collectors, Third Party Administrators and others, were believing what they were reading on the internet because they didn’t have access to accurate information. This was not only an issue in Colorado but nationwide.
So, I expanded my focus from working with employers in my community on their drug-free workplace programs, to reaching out to a wider national and international audience about the basics of how drug testing works and what the parameters of local and national policy regarding workplace drug testing should be, specifically when it comes to marijuana. I also started collaborating with industry experts, scientists and other partners to publish research that could push back against the misinformation. But we kept hitting a wall. The cannabis industry’s well-paid lobbyists had set the narrative decades ago and our legislators had little incentive to listen to us. Even when I testified before the United Nations about the importance of workplace drug testing as a health and safety issue, leaders from other countries were more receptive than the people we wanted to reach at home.
The Voice of the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry
When we formed NDASA in 2018, one of our priorities was to provide the true advocacy this industry deserved. We made certain that NDASA leadership included people who had a strong commitment to the industry and who had the know-how to get things done in our nation’s capital. We started a State Affiliates program so that we would have voices at the state level and we formed a Government Affairs Committee to focus on changing laws, how they pertain to our industry and what the association can do to protect the interests of our members.
The first time we traveled to D.C., for the official launch of NDASA, we visited our senators and representatives. We told them who we were, provided information packets, let them know what we could do for them and how NDASA could educate them about drug testing. Everyone was very polite. They thanked us for coming in, sent us on our way and never gave NDASA a second thought.
As soon as the association was able, with the support of volunteers and donations, we formed a Political Action Committee. We knew the hard truth: Putting money behind our advocacy and letting people know that we were ready to support those at the federal level who were willing to work with our industry, would be the only way to have our issues heard.
The next time we traveled to D.C., NDASA received a very different reception. Suddenly, the response was: “Here’s my card. Here’s my staff person. They will be your direct contact. Here are our emails. We want to hear about your issue. Can you spend five or 10 minutes explaining it to us now? Can we pull in a couple of staffers who should be informed about this issue as well?” Those meetings resulted in legitimate conversations. Our PAC made contributions to candidates running for reelection who publicly supported our cause. And, ultimately, we received commitments of support for safety carveouts that would ensure the right of employers to test employees in safety-sensitive roles for marijuana use in any new drug legislation. In 2020, by working with lawmakers, we succeeded in including a safety carveout in the then-pending MORE Act which would have decriminalized marijuana at the federal level.
The MORE Act ultimately failed to pass, but I couldn’t be more proud of our organization, our Governmental Affairs Committee and our PAC. We put our money where our mouth is. We promised our members, clients and customers that we would not allow drug testing to disappear from the United States and that is a fight we continue to battle.
The pro-cannabis lobby wants employee drug testing eliminated. It is their current, stated goal to do away with marijuana testing in states where marijuana is legalized. They have not been successful yet, but they are willing to play the long game and they are well-funded. NDASA must be able and willing to do the same. Our agenda is to protect the wellbeing, health and safety of families and communities by supporting the right of employers to drug test. That is why we have an active Governmental Affairs Committee, and why we occasionally ask members for donations to keep our PAC funded. Drug laws will continue to change and through advocacy, NDASA will continue to be an effective voice for our industry in Washington.
*Edited for length and clarity.
Every donation to NDASA’s Political Action Committee, no matter the size, strengthens our advocacy efforts.