Amazon’s Entry into the World of Cannabis: Will Others Follow?
Amazon changes course and is all-in on federal cannabis reform.
It used to be so easy for employers. If you were drug tested and cannabinoid metabolites were found in your urine, hair, or blood, you could be fired or referred to a drug recovery program. But on June 1st, Amazon declared in a company blog post that it had “changed course” and would not be testing at all for cannabis in most jobs.
That’s not to say employees could light up on the job, however. Transportation jobs would still have testing, impairment checks would still be conducted on-the-job and accidents requiring investigation by insurance companies would still require testing. But Amazon is now all-in on federal cannabis reform, announcing in the same post its endorsement of the MORE Act. Further, Amazon has already consulted with cannabis lobbyists on using its sizable advocacy muscle — $17.9 million in lobbying last year alone — to support the underfunded legalization push in DC.
Amazon is not the first corporate employer to abandon cannabis prohibition. Caesars Entertainment enacted a similar policy in 2018, as has Apple. Uber made waves when it announced it would enter into cannabis delivery as soon as cannabis becomes permitted under federal law. Even local governments such as Riverside County, CA have dropped drug testing, and an assembly bill in California would prevent most discrimination of employees should they test positive for marijuana. The states of Nevada and New York have already followed suit. Amazon’s position as the #2 employer in the United States may suggest that a change is coming with employers. Or is it?
Anyone who’s tried going to a restaurant knows that there’s currently a labor shortage in the US. And state legalization has made the job of filling jobs that much harder for any business continuing to test for and decline employment to candidates who test positive for cannabis. The transportation and trucking industry, for instance, often comes up short in finding “clean talent.” “Recreational cannabis is a booming industry — meaning many people are using [cannabis]. The pool of talent left, who don’t use cannabis, who are looking for jobs, who would be willing to work as a warehouse stocker or driver is very small,” Andy Robblee, president of the trucking company Six Robblee, told the trade website Trucks, Parts and Service recently. Some companies have already eliminated testing for cannabis altogether — they simply haven’t announced it to the world yet. “If we had to turn away every applicant who tested positive for marijuana, we’d lose 80 percent of our potential hires,” one anonymous recruiter told the HR site SHRM back in 2019.
Moreover, those who have fired or suspended workers for using medical cannabis have recently seen courts side against them in costly lawsuits. Particularly notable was a case in Connecticut where a federal court judge determined a rehabilitation center violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws when it rescinded a job offer after the applicant revealed she used medical cannabis. Even the mega-employer Walmart was found guilty of wrongful termination after an Arizona court sided with an employee who ended up getting injured and tested positive due to her use of medical cannabis under the state’s program. These cases are happening only five years after the Colorado Supreme Court found for Dish Networks, who fired a quadriplegic employee and medical cannabis patient. These recent court decisions suggest the tide is turning, at least with medical use, and employees may be gaining the upper hand.
Still, the permissibility of using cannabis or a cannabis extract at work is far from settled across the country. An Iowa Appeals Court ruled that a police dispatcher who took CBD oil at work was using a controlled substance. CBD oil is also off limits for airline pilots according to the FAA, and Coast Guard employees are forbidden from even using hemp shampoo. In recently legal Virginia, businesses can still fire those who are using cannabis recreationally. Also, under the Drug-Free Workplace Act, all federal grantees and contractors are required to impose anti-cannabis employment policies (this is a big reason why Elon Musk, whose SpaceX contracts with NASA, faced heavy criticism for smoking pot on the Joe Rogan Experience). But, for practically every other workplace, the shift is beginning to happen.
Perhaps, in the midst of these shifts, the Amazon position to treat cannabis like alcohol and act only when a problem arises is the return to simplicity employers need at this point. Acknowledging the changing laws and advocating for their employees to participate in legal activity fits in with Amazon’s goal to be “Earth’s Best Employer.” For their part, Amazon is tight-lipped over whether they are positioning themselves to enter the cannabis industry. But it might mean they plan to have much more enjoyable office parties moving forward.