People nationwide have been riding a “green wave,” and no, we aren’t talking about alternative energy. As cannabis-related legislation makes an appearance in state congressional dockets and on public ballots moving into 2020, there’s a chance that results similar to what Americans saw in 2018 could be mirrored in the upcoming election season.

Illinois’s new recreational cannabis law is set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, one of the more recent its kind. As business owners and residents prepare for the shift, more states could follow suit. With 11 states and Washington, D.C. allowing recreational use and 33 states with medical allowances, marijuana is currently on the minds of many Americans. Cannabis-related ballot initiatives across states like Arizona, New Jersey, and Mississippi are even on the table.

As these changes go into effect, though, the private sector must adapt. Legalization and decriminalization are changing the role of marijuana drug testing. As a result, companies and business owners have begun to reevaluate how they drug test employees

We dedicated the third installment of our Hiring Truths series to marijuana use in the workplace. In a survey of 741 hiring managers and 262 employees, we sought to uncover how businesses are tailoring their workplace policies to take these new laws into consideration. 

Explore our findings below.

Company Size and Cannabis Rules

The size of a business may dictate how lax or strict a company’s policies on marijuana are, especially regarding hiring. We found that smaller companies were less likely than larger ones to drug test for marijuana during the hiring process and to automatically disqualify an applicant who failed one. If drug testing for marijuana was involved in the hiring process, it was most likely to come after an applicant had been given an offer of employment, necessitating a decision on whether to disqualify that person from the job. 

Immediate disqualification used to be commonplace, but workplace policies are changing as marijuana becomes more readily accepted

Employers don’t have much choice in some cases, though, as automatically discounting a job candidate can be illegal. In Maine, where marijuana has been recreationally legal since 2016, someone failing a marijuana drug test isn’t enough of a reason to fire them. Managers must be able to produce a justifiable business-related reason for termination.

Marijuana Drug Testing: An Outdated Practice?

Marijuana legislation tends to move quickly, making it difficult for employers and hiring managers to update their policies based on new laws. Our survey found that hiring managers in states where marijuana remains illegal were the most likely to say their company has a marijuana use policy (70.8%). That number dropped to 58.2% in states where the substance is completely legal. 

Still, we found that hiring managers care less about what you do on your own time. Hiring managers were much less likely to fire an employee for marijuana use outside of work. Further, 68.4% of hiring managers said they feel their company is OK with employee marijuana use as long as the company remains unaware of it. 

In 2018, a district court granted a groundbreaking win for legal cannabis users by furthering the conversation around marijuana use outside work. Connecticut’s Palliative Use of Marijuana Act came under scrutiny after a woman approved to use medical cannabis had a job acceptance rescinded when a workplace drug test came back positive for THC.  

Sentiment Toward Marijuana Use Is Changing

Employers were most likely to believe that employees who use marijuana underperform and are more likely to come to work under the influence. More than 1 in 4 hiring managers said marijuana use leads to underperformance at work, and over 40% thought it could increase the likelihood of an employee coming to work under the influence. 

These numbers are a far cry from past sentiment toward marijuana use, though. During the “Reefer Madness” days, not only did marijuana use earn you the label of “deviant,” but it was also believed to turn people insane. We’ve come a long way since then, as public sentiment continues to move in favor of full legalization. However, there are still potential risks to marijuana use, especially in the workplace. 

In Colorado, over 96% of employers who tested with Quest Diagnostics still included cannabis in their drug testing in 2017, citing performance concerns in industries that require a strong sense of awareness and capability. These roles are also known as “safety-sensitive” jobs and include industries like hazardous chemical management, caretaking, food preparation, and heavy machinery operations. 

Cannabis Experience in the Workforce

Adding cannabis industry experience to your resume seems, at first, like a risk. Will employers consider it to be worthy experience in other fields? Does affiliation with the cannabis industry make someone unhirable? A majority of hiring managers had an impartial opinion of cannabis industry experience, regardless of the position. Over 63% of hiring managers also said they’d be comfortable hiring someone from the legal cannabis industry. 

As more states fully legalize cannabis (federal decriminalization could be on the horizon), the more people will work in the legal cannabis industry. And with the industry estimated to be worth as much as $77 billion by 2022, employers are finding value in workers with this type of experience. 

Cannabis industry workers and enthusiasts need not fear: Only 15.9% of hiring managers said they’d think of an applicant negatively if they had legal marijuana experience.

Workers and Marijuana Drug Testing

As workplace policies adapt to changing sentiments and new laws, employees reflect the changing discourse around marijuana legalization: 75% of workers were against immediate termination for a positive marijuana drug test.

The broad spectrum of views on cannabis was most apparent when we asked employees how seriously their company took marijuana use. There was a fairly equal spread across responses, with a slight majority (22.9%) saying their employer didn’t take it seriously at all. However, 19.1% said their company was very serious about marijuana use. 

Marijuana, the Workplace, and the Future

Legal marijuana use is beginning to shape the workplace, even in states that have yet to craft new laws or adjust to current ones on cannabis. Future regulation and research can help bridge the gap between employers who want their workplaces to be safe and legal users of cannabis.

The number of cannabis-related job postings increased by 445% in 2017, making it one of the fastest-growing industries nationwide. Want to get in at the ground level in your city or state? 

Head over to and find the roles you desire. Pair your existing experience with an exciting new job in an emerging field, or search among the thousands of job listings across any field you’re interested in. 


We conducted two surveys for this project: one of 741 current hiring managers and one of 262 current employees.

To qualify for the hiring manager survey, respondents had to be currently employed and involved in hiring for their organization. Respondents were 50.6% women and 49.4% men. The average age of respondents was 37.4 with a standard deviation of 10.5.

To qualify for the employee survey, respondents had to be currently employed. Respondents were 44.2% women and 55.8% men. The average age of respondents was 35.9 with a standard deviation of 10.4.

Respondents for both surveys were asked to identify which state they lived in. We then categorized the states by their current marijuana laws. We classified them into three groups:

  • Fully illegal
  • Medical use only
  • Fully legal

We did not include states that allow products like CBD oil in the legality categories, as the intent of this project was to examine marijuana. 

When asked about the likelihood of firing employees for marijuana use at work and outside of work, hiring managers were given the following options:

  • Very unlikely
  • Unlikely
  • Neither likely nor unlikely
  • Likely
  • Very likely

These options were combined into the following groups in our final visualization of the data: unlikely, neither likely nor unlikely, and likely. 

Hiring managers were asked to report how much they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements on marijuana use in the workplace. They were given the following options:

  • Strongly disagree
  • Disagree
  • Neither agree nor disagree
  • Agree
  • Strongly agree

In our final visualization of the data, these were combined into the following groups: agree, neither agree nor disagree, and disagree.

When asked how comfortable they would be hiring an applicant from the legal cannabis industry, hiring managers were given the following options:

  • Very comfortable
  • Moderately comfortable
  • Somewhat comfortable
  • Neither comfortable nor uncomfortable
  • Somewhat uncomfortable
  • Moderately uncomfortable
  • Very uncomfortable

In our final visualization of the data, these were combined into the following groups: comfortable, neither comfortable nor uncomfortable, and uncomfortable.

When asked how they would view applicants from the legal cannabis industry, hiring managers were given the following options:

  • Very negative
  • Somewhat negative
  • Neither negative nor positive
  • Somewhat positive
  • Very positive

In our final visualization of the data, these were combined into the following groups: negative, neither negative nor positive, and positive. 


The data we’ve presented here rely on self-reporting. Issues associated with self-reported data include selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration. For example, when reporting their perceptions of employee marijuana use, hiring managers could have based their responses on a specific experience with one employee rather than the entire breadth of their experience, skewing the data. 

Fair Use Statement

As more states reexamine their laws regarding marijuana, hiring managers also may have to rethink their policies on marijuana use in the workplace. If you know someone who would benefit from the information in this study, you can share this with him or her for any noncommercial reuse. We only ask that you link to the entire study to give our contributors credit for their work.

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