What jobs are OK to do while you’re high? It’s a question that employers are having to ask themselves a lot more these days, even as Congress considers decriminalizing marijuana.
A recent report found that the percentage of working Americans testing positive for drugs hit a two-decade high in 2021. Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest drug testing companies in the nation, screened 6 million workers for marijuana last year; 3.9% of the tests came back positive. Many of those tests were “pre-employment,” meaning that the worker wasn’t even clean for the job interview.
Given the labor shortage and the fact that more and more states have legalized recreational marijuana, maybe this isn’t surprising. But it should still be concerning. Of course there are federal regulations requiring companies to test employees who are responsible for operating heavy machinery. But exactly which jobs are OK to do while high?
I recently went to play tennis indoors at a local club and found that the bubble reeked of marijuana. Presumably, the smell came from the workers and not the people paying money to play. Will smoking a joint make the tennis pros more patient with bad students? Will it make them slower to react to stray balls coming at them?
What about customer-facing jobs? Have you ever tried to check out of the grocery store or check into a hotel with a clerk who is not all there, but finds you very, very funny? I have done both recently, and I’m not inclined to patronize the establishments again.
We might assume that professionals can do their jobs under the light influence of drugs without any concerns. Sure, there could be more typos in the newspaper and the computer code might have a few more glitches, but it’s not the end of the world. But the truth is that it is hard to get ahead with a substance use problem. And if you can’t stop using a drug long enough to get through a pre-employment drug test, you may have a problem.
Our country is facing a scourge of drug use, with overdose numbers reaching over 100,000 in a single calendar year. Alcohol abuse has also gone up dramatically, with alcohol deaths up 25% from 2019 to 2020 alone. Unfortunately, the message that we are sending to young people about drugs is that they are fine as long as the habit is managed well, and we can make some money off them. New York is even giving drug offenders the first shot at licenses to sell marijuana.
Many politicians are likely salivating at the potential windfall from legal marijuana sales. Even if you think pot should be legal like cigarettes or alcohol, those products have produced huge health costs for our country. Will families soon be filing class-action lawsuits against pot companies for failing to warn users about the fact that teens who admitting using pot frequently were six times more likely to develop schizophrenia later in life than non-pot-smokers?
Even if marijuana use doesn’t create long-term problems for many users — the research is still out on this — it makes people duller, less accurate and slower at their jobs. This is not a recipe for career success. Yes, you can sell people Happy Meals if you’re not paying close attention, but you’re unlikely to move up from entry level jobs into management positions if you don’t seem particularly motivated or present.
For those who are concerned with social and economic mobility in America, this is another instance in which the messages coming from the upper classes are actively harming the lower classes.
In a review of Carl Hart’s 2021 book, “Drug Use for Grown-Ups,” my American Enterprise Institute colleague Sally Satel noted, “The vexing paradox is that the very individuals who feel compelled to use intoxicants to excess are often those least psychologically equipped to handle them.”
For those who already find themselves on the lower end of the economic spectrum or dealing with other challenges — including violent neighborhoods, dysfunctional family life and poor educational options — drugs present an out they can ill afford to use.
When we say that drug use is not a big deal, that it can be easily managed to not interfere with a productive life, we are not telling the truth about what it takes to live a middle-class life in America. Though it is out of fashion to suggest that working hard can lead to upward mobility, the truth is that drug use will make that journey even less likely.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Deseret News contributor and the author of “No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives.”