When it comes to Amazon, real progress is achieved about as often as a broken clock is right. That’s because you don’t become the richest person on the planet unless you’re comfortable with making your delivery drivers pee in bottles, destroying the environment, ruining independent bookstores and the small business economy, and a slew of other, equally heinous stuff.
For Jeff Bezos — a man who is literally about to fly himself into space simply because he can afford to do it — doing right by his labor force is clearly not a chief focus.
Nonetheless, in what can only be described as a positive development, it appears that Amazon will no longer test the majority of its job applicants for cannabis use. In a blog published to the site on June 1, Amazon retail chief Dave Clark laid out his reasons for the change in policy.
“In the past,” Clark writes, “like many employers, we’ve disqualified people from working at Amazon if they tested positive for marijuana use. However, given where state laws are moving across the U.S., we’ve changed course. We will no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug screening program for any positions not regulated by the Department of Transportation, and will instead treat it the same as alcohol use.”
Clark goes on to clarify that Amazon will “continue to do impairment checks on the job and will test for all drugs and alcohol after any incident.” While not ideal, even the folks at NORML have been steadfast in their position that drug policy reform does not extend to, say, letting forklift operators get lit before jumping behind the wheel.
NPR’s Bill Chappell provided further clarification in a report on Amazon’s recent pot pivot.
“With the shift in policy,” notes Chappell, “the only job candidates Amazon will screen for marijuana are those applying for positions regulated by the Department of Transportation — a category that includes delivery truck drivers and operators of heavy machinery.”
As always, there is a fiscal component to Amazon’s thinking here.
In essence, as the second-largest private employer in the U.S., it’s getting harder and harder to find people to hire as more and more states opt to legalize cannabis. Thus, by changing the megacompany’s position and permitting employees to use cannabis outside of work hours, Amazon can ensure that its hiring managers won’t be scrambling to fill positions.
Honestly, it’s just common sense – if not a little tardy.
After all, it was all the way back in 2012 when Amazon’s own home state of Washington legalized recreational cannabis.
“And the tech giant is now building an East Coast headquarters in Virginia, where weed will become legal on July 1,” notes Chappell. “It has also been expanding in New York, which legalized marijuana at the end of March. Even before New York legalized marijuana, New York City banned testing prospective employees for marijuana, with some exceptions. Based on that law, a New York man sued Amazon in March, saying the company illegally reversed a hiring offer because he had tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.”
Clark’s blog post wasn’t only about drug testing, however. There was, in fact, even more potentially good news to come.
“And because we know that this issue is bigger than Amazon,” Clark writes, “our public policy team will be actively supporting The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act)—federal legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge criminal records, and invest in impacted communities. We hope that other employers will join us, and that policymakers will act swiftly to pass this law.”
This basically means that the second-largest private employer in the U.S is now publicly committing itself to lobbying for an end to federal cannabis prohibition. It’s a massive reversal, and one that will likely bring with it as many skeptics as well-wishers. Even if Amazon’s word is as good as its bond on this issue (don’t count on it), is the ideal future for legalization one in which a company like Amazon is a focal advocate? Can a cause even ever truly be considered progressive when a force like Amazon is in favor of it too?
As we continue to speed towards some kind of action in Congress, these are all questions in need of answers. Whether it will be the MORE Act that Amazon is now stanning or the hybrid legislation Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has suggested is forthcoming, it is almost certain that some bill concerning cannabis reform is about to get a big push from top Democrats.
This is all another reason behind Amazon’s decision to ditch drug testing for off-hours cannabis use. Support for cannabis legalization among Americans is currently at an all-time high. According to the latest poll from Gallup, 68% of those surveyed said they were in favor of cannabis legalization. At some point, the optics of supporting the cause outweigh the safety of sitting on the sidelines. Amazon has clearly crunched these numbers and arrived at the same conclusion.
What does matter is that countless workers will now be able to safely access medicine without fear of professional repercussions. Amazon’s decision will also assuredly have a ripple effect, with many smaller, less reprehensible companies hopefully following suit.
Shockingly, in California, issues of workplace termination over cannabis consumption persist despite Prop. 64 going into effect in 2018. Thus, while Amazon deserves no flowers for making a smart business decision, the impact such a move may have in enacting widespread protections for workers using cannabis off-the-clock in legal states is, it must be said, a win.