September 8, 2023

Chairman’s Corner: The Politics of a Drug-Free Workplace


“Drug-free workplace” – It’s a seemingly reasonable term that implies employers and employees can have a work environment free from the hazards associated with illegal or impairing substance use. However, with today’s political climate and upcoming congressional and presidential elections, the idea of an employer’s right to drug test and maintain a drug-free workplace is becoming more challenging.

Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) formally recommended that marijuana be rescheduled from a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 3 drug of the Controlled Substances Act. The decision to reschedule marijuana will ultimately fall to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and while there are many reasons to dispute this recommendation, the most concerning to NDASA, is the potential prohibition of DOT to include marijuana in the testing panel for safety-sensitive positions.

While NDASA has no official position on the legalization of marijuana, we are firmly committed to an employer’s right to operate a drug-free workplace. Even more important, is our commitment to public safety. Some promote the concept that marijuana, and other illegal drugs, do not necessarily impair a person’s judgment, faculties or behaviors. However, NDASA believes that without a credible device or method to determine marijuana impairment, making this assumption and rescheduling will undoubtedly affect public safety. It will also impede the ability of governmental agencies including the U.S. Department of Transportation to test truck drivers, airline pilots, train engineers, school bus drivers and others in safety-sensitive roles.

Another concern that NDASA has with the discussions regarding the legalization of marijuana and an employer’s right to drug test is that the arguments for legalization and against drug testing are based on political expediency, unsubstantiated assumptions and information that is just not correct. Politics or current public opinion should not be considered when it comes to critically important decisions of this nature that will directly impact community safety and an employer’s right to have a drug-free workplace.

Whatever the outcome of the recommendation by HHS and ultimately the final decision of the DEA, the ability of DOT to test for marijuana (with a safety carve out) must be preserved. The next time you fly on an airplane, send your kids off to school on a bus, or you are traveling on a highway next to a large truck, you can appreciate that marijuana and other drugs are currently included in the DOT drug test. At NDASA, it is our mission to make sure that these safety protocols will remain in place going forward.

James (Jim) Greer