When Leafly and Headset co-founder Cy Scott heard the news that Amazon was relaxing its marijuana testing standards for job applicants while backing federal legalization efforts, two thoughts immediately came to mind: Amazon needs people. Amazon wants market share.
“I think it’s fundamentally about hiring,” said the founder of two cannabis-focused companies. “It’s really difficult for them to hire, given that most Americans live in markets where cannabis is legal, and a significant majority when medical cannabis is added. Frankly, it’s hard for them to recruit around that. “
He added: “And it is also difficult to ignore a potential emerging market.”
Last week, Amazon announced that it supports federal legislation that would legalize marijuana and that the company will stop testing applicants for use of the drug in certain job classifications. As a justification for the sudden policy change on marijuana use, Dave Clark, CEO of Consumidores M Mundial, noted that the country is changing its attitude on marijuana.
“However, since state laws are moving in the US, we have changed course,” Clark said. wrote in a blog post announcing the change. “We will no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug screening program for any position that is not regulated by the Department of Transportation …”
But experts in the cannabis industry, along with attorneys dealing with workplace issues, believe that something else is afoot.
Hiring under zero tolerance policies was difficult even before marijuana legalization. More than a decade ago, when faced with a recruitment shortage, the FBI famously rescinded his policy which banned applicants who had ever smoked marijuana.
Facing similarly small recruiting groups, too many local police departments had been quietly reversing similar policies during years. Then came the first wave of medical marijuana exemptions, followed by the first recreational marijuana legalization initiatives in 2012 in Washington and Colorado.
Recreational marijuana is currently legal for adults in 16 states and the District of Columbia. Medical marijuana is legal in 20 others.
Today, all major American professional sports leagues have relaxed cannabis testing or plan to do so, led by the NHL, which now only catches players with “dangerously “high levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in the drug. And recently four states (New York, New Jersey, Montana, and Nevada) approved worker protections to make it harder for employers to fire someone for using recreational marijuana off duty.
Amazon has fulfillment centers in each of those worker-protected states. And Amazon has plans to hire tens of thousands of additional employees across the country.
Seattle Attorney Michael Subit marvels at how the legal landscape has changed. Ten years ago today, he lost one of the state’s first Supreme Court cases on worker protection and medical marijuana use in Roe v. Teletech. In court, he argued that passing the medical marijuana law meant a “duty to adapt” to the new law when a worker was prescribed marijuana.
“That argument was lost in the Supreme Court of Washington,” he recalled. “I think maybe today we will get a different result.”
In fact, Subit’s argument is now the basis for partial protections for workers in some states, like Massachusetts, when it comes to medical marijuana. Washington does not yet have such protections for workers.
“Well, it was good to have the validation in Massachusetts,” he laughed.
But from a long-term planning standpoint, those legal changes to the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana and worker protections began to erode Amazon’s stance against marijuana. Employer attorney Jared van kirk, who has helped design drug testing policies for employers in Washington state, said Amazon’s switch makes sense. And you wouldn’t be surprised to see other multi-state companies follow suit.
The company’s pro-pot change not only broadened the hiring pool, it also made internal management much more universal, he added. “It didn’t surprise me at all that any employer was open to those changes, especially a multi-state employer.”
Scott, who co-founded and later sold Leafly, which focused on consumer education, and later helped start Headset, which provides analysis of the cannabis industry, said there is probably another long-term goal here as well.
Amazon is an online retailer with a wide distribution network, he said. Does this competitive and voracious multinational want to be prepared if the federal government legalizes marijuana and opens the door to Joints-by-Amazon? Should the current cannabis industry be concerned? Could shoppers see marijuana at Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh?
For comparison, Scott asked and answered this question: What did Costco do when it wanted to sell alcohol legally?
“They threw millions of dollars to change the laws,” he said. “It was very lucrative for them.”
Amazon could view marijuana the same way, he added. “Certainly there [could be] an opportunity for them in the future to sell cannabis. Any retailer that has to compete with Amazon, I think that’s a challenge. ”