In mid-April, O.penVAPE, a company that makes a cannabis vaporizer that took Second Place for Best Product at the most recent HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup Denver, shocked the marijuana community by crowing about its new workplace drug testing policy. Now, thanks to coordinated action by activists from many national reform organizations, the company has reversed course and embraced impairment testing and abandoned urine testing.

The tone-deaf April 17th press release, “O.penVAPE, the Nation’s Largest Cannabis Brand, Will Test Employees for Dangerous Drug Abuse,” tried to portray O.penVAPE’s policy of testing employees' urine as responsible and progressive, in that it would have exempted cannabis from certain testing circumstances.  As O.penVAPE’s spokesperson Todd Mitchem, explained:

“Unlike dangerous drugs, cannabis can be part of a healthy lifestyle that promotes wellness,” Mitchem said. “We always encourage consumers to use cannabis responsibly, and, as such, we have implemented a stringent drug policy for our own employees. O.penVAPE understands that, as the largest brand in the cannabis industry, our view holds weight -- and our view is simple: we won’t tolerate dangerous drug use by our employees.”

The news was picked up by Tom Angell, director of Marijuana Majority, a site that compiles quotes favoring changes to marijuana laws from public figures.  Mitchem’s initial responses to Angell via Twitter reeked of condescension and drug war propaganda. It wasn’t long before cyberspace’s busiest marijuana advocates, myself included, began bombarding Mitchem and O.penVAPE with tweets, Facebook posts, and blogs condemning their drug testing policy.

Behind the scenes, however, Angell was marshaling some of our most learned experts on the issue of drug testing to address O.penVAPE in a series of conference calls. Paul Armentano from NORML, Amanda Reiman from Drug Policy Alliance, and Doug McVay from Drug War Facts all educated Mitchem and the company about the failure of drug testing to tell employers anything about the worth and safety of their employees. In response, O.penVAPE scrapped all urine testing in favor of computerized impairment testing, which is not only more fair and reliable for detecting drug impaired workers, but also workers impaired by any other factor.

Steve Bloom of Celebstoner contacted Mitchem for the article “O.penVAPE Revises Drug-Testing Policy.” Mitchem told Celebstoner, “We went back to the drawing board to work to help out people battle the things in life that cause impairment. It’s a way to check for many things like sleep deprivation, stress and abuse. It’s more performance driven.” Bloom then asks, “So then no urine testing?” Mitchem responded with a flat, “Not at all.”

“This started off as a really unfortunate incident of drug war ignorance,” offered Angell in comments to HIGH TIMES, “but ended up being a positive learning experience. It’s important for companies in the emerging legal marijuana industry to know that the activists who worked so hard to enact the laws that their businesses are built on will be around to monitor implementation and make sure it lives up to the principles that our drug policy reform movement has fought for so long to make a reality.”

Dr. Amanda Reiman told HIGH TIMES, “For a long time, it has been deemed perfectly acceptable by many people to ostracize those who use substances from the employment world due to beliefs about the inability to use substances and still be a good employee. We know this is false because many people drink alcohol and still perform well at work.” Indeed, and reformers will often point out that a urine testing policy is counter-productive from a harm reduction perspective, as marijuana is detected for much longer periods than alcohol and other drugs, thus incentivizing the use of substances more harmful to the user and society.

NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano offered the long view to HIGH TIMES, explaining, “The enactment of cannabis regulation in states like Colorado and Washington is an ideal opportunity for employers to re-examine their conventional drug-testing policies. It is high time for employers to move beyond traditional detection tests, which fail to identify impaired performance, and identify and implement other validated ways to keep their employees and workplaces healthy and safe.”

High time, indeed… just not at work. And now that the FBI is considering relaxation of its screening procedures for computer technology experts -- banning the former pot users leaves them with few techies to choose from -- all workplaces need to end the practice of prejudging their employees not by the content of their work history, but the metabolites in their urine. Pee for enjoyment, not for employment!