Amazon has announced it will no longer test most job applicants for marijuana use, save for employees who fall under regulations of the Department of Transportation like delivery drivers. They’re also throwing their support behind the MORE Act, which could radically change the national cannabis landscape.
Leafly Senior Editor David Downs talks about how the announcement could affect cannabis in the United States.
KCRW: Cannabis stocks rallied after Amazon made its announcement. What does it mean for the industry overall?
David Downs: “It's definitely another tailwind in the national move to legalize cannabis. Consumers and the U.S. populations [are] polling around the mid-60s in terms of support for legalization, and medical legalization polling in the 90s.
We have 18 legalization states now, and New York just came online as well as Arizona. And many are seeing this as yet another domino falling, in terms of the beginning of the end for U.S. cannabis prohibition, which has been going on since the 1930s.”
Amazon is based in Seattle, which is in Washington, one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. Why do you think they are changing their employee policy now?
“Because workplace weed testing is unscientific, unjust and also costly. You can be fired on Monday for a joint you smoked the weekend before or even the weekend before that.
And even the California Highway Patrols taskforce just released a report commissioned by voters from Proposition 64 in California that concluded that past use does not equal current impairment.
And the number one drug testing company in America, Quest Diagnostic, also agrees. The CHP task force rejected blood concentration tests, or limits per se, which are even more accurate than the urine screens that most people are used to at a big business. About 7 million of those screens are done every year, by Quest Diagnostics alone.
It's a $3.83 billion industry. … And we are looking to employ 9.3 million people in terms of open jobs in America right now. And Amazon is not the first company to say, ‘Hey, this is a drag on us.’”
What could it mean for the workforce as a whole?
“It means that they're going to be able to move on and hire an estimated 3.3% of applicants in California whose urine screens are testing positive for cannabis. Nationally, those numbers are similar. And since legalization is on the march, Amazon is having to refuse more and more workers for this urine screen that would otherwise be qualified for the job.”
The MORE Act, if passed and signed into law, would deschedule, basically decriminalize, cannabis at the federal level, making its status the same as something like alcohol. How big is it that Amazon plans to actively support the bill?
“Amazon's certainly got a lobbying arm that is strong and is known throughout state houses and nationally, but they're sailing into choppy waters with regard to marijuana, where conservatives and progressives have their own reasons to sort of slow roll reform.
There's many flavors of legalization on the hill, whether it's the MORE Act or Safe Banking Act or other ones. And it's clear that cannabis has become a political football, where neither side wants to let the other one score any points. But if you have a strong lobbying team and you can convince a legislator, then you can get a deal done.
I think of Mitch McConnell flipping on hemp legalization when Kentucky farmers wanted to grow hemp this year. There's a lot of stuff on the Congress' agenda. But certainly Amazon, which employs 1.3 million people, saying, ‘We're not doing these types of drug screens and we support cannabis users' rights to use safely on weekends,’ I think is going to take one of the arguments away from prohibitionists. Namely, that the broader business community is opposed to this.”
If the MORE Act is passed and signed into law, could we see the e-commerce giant selling ounces and edibles on their website?
“Potentially. Some have noted that Amazon is in the business of delivering alcohol as well right now. But the issue is there's a lot more regulations around delivering a cannabis product versus a home cleaning product like some gloves or an apron that I bought this week.
Cannabis in general is regulated tighter than plutonium or firearms in this country. And so the idea that Amazon is going to cannonball into the cannabis space doesn't really line up with how hard it is for any insurance to make money in the market.”