Question of Dignity
The Principle of the Drug Test
You could be applying for a job. You could be getting questioned by the police. You could have been injured by dangerous conditions set up by your employer, or you could have been asking to volunteer at a charity. There are many instances in society where someone might stop you and, before you go any further, submit to a drug test -- you must give either blood, saliva, urine, or hair, so that it can be tested for substances that are banned by the government. In some cases, loss of opportunity in being able to make a living, and in other cases, you'll be threatened with jail. In either situation, you have very little decision in the matter.
Why do they test for drugs? Where does that desire come from? It springs forth from the underlying culture behind those who demand the drug tests. It comes the belief and attitude that drugs are harmful to the individual and to society. It is this idea that intoxication limits what a person could achieve for themselves. This dominant culture holds the idea that these drugs make a person less capable of sincerity and less worthy of friendship -- they have less love, hope, ambition, and inner strength.
Drug tests come from this conservative, social environment. It comes from the traditional circles, who have always been keen to point out someone who is different and to exclude them. It comes from those who had pointed out those of different races, those born in different countries -- those who pointed out Muslims and Irish, Gays and Italians, Communist Party Members and Germans. This particular human being does not fit into our standards; they have set themselves apart individually. And even though they experience the world much like us, we must convince others that they are bad.
It is always necessary to spread the lie that these "strange people" are a threat to everyone, in one way or another. They must be sought out, thrown out of their job, imprisoned, and sometimes, even killed. But they must be excluded. They cannot ever be part of our society. They cannot eat with us at our tables, they cannot speak to our children, and in no way can they ever be regarded as equals. That would mean sharing a similar experience in the world and a similar vision for the future; this is impossible for this conservative mindset, because the very principle of exclusion is based on inequality.
Testing All Members of Society
There might be some jobs requiring an individual who is not impaired from drugs while laboring. For instance, in manufacturing or construction, where someone's life might be at risk if their co-worker cannot work properly. In manufacturing, 78.5% of new hires were tested for drugs in 2000 in the United States. [*1] When looking at other industries, though, the number of people being drug tested is alarmingly high. In wholesale and retail, 63% of all new hires are tested for illegal substance use. Is there any real risk in a salesman using an intoxicant? In their job, what could they possibly be doing that requires sobriety?
In "Other Services" industries, drug tests for new hires was 60.3%. For Business and Professional Services, it was 36%, and for Financial Services, it was 35.8%. There is no rational or logical reasoning in choosing to test these employees. A construction worker might be required to use machinery that moves a 10-ton load, which requires precise and perfect timing. The same can be said of miners and those in factory conditions. But what about someone who calculates taxes, or someone who takes orders for food? What about someone who sells TV sets, or even someone who's a graphic artist or engineering architect?
What possible value is there in drug testing any of these employees? They are not doing something in which they risk the lives of other people. In fact, nothing they do could really require a sober state of mind. It all drives back to the dominating culture -- to this belief in superiority over others. This is what all exclusive cultures are based on: that one group has a natural advantage over other groups, and with this alone, it deserves the right to mastery. This is what all exclusive ideas been based upon, whether they are Nationalism or Racism, Capitalism or Imperialism, Homophobia or... the Anti-Drug Ideal.
The Science of this Experiment
The reliability of drug tests is also questionable. After smoking marijuana daily for weeks, you may still test positive for use for up to thirty days. [*2] Imagine that someone at a manufacturing plant is drug tested and returns a positive, even when they were completely sober at their job. The drug tests being used are not capable of indicating if someone was impaired or intoxicated while at their job, driving, or operating machinery. It is a simple test that checks for the presence of chemicals in the body. In the case of Cannabis, it is only possible to show that someone has been using the drug -- it cannot show that someone is intoxicated or impaired by the substance.
Citing one study published in 1987 about drug tests, "Physicians should be aware that results from drug testing can yield accurate evidence of prior exposure to drugs, but they do not provide information about patterns of drug use, about abuse of or dependence on drugs, or about mental or physical impairments that may result from drug use." [*3]
The accuracy of drug tests is completely unreliable. Things that can cause a false positive in cannabis test include: Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Ketoprofen, Promethazine, Pantoprazole, Riboflavin (Vitamin B), kidney infection, liver disease, and Dronabinol. [*2] In one study published in 1985, researchers sent samples to thirteen, drug testing facilities to demonstrate their efficiency. Inaccuracy rates for samples containing barbituates were between 11% to 94%, amphetamines between 19% to 100%, and morphine between 5% to 100%. Clean samples also resulted in many false positives. Between 0% and 37% of the clean material tested positive for amphetamines, 0% to 66% for methadone, and 0% to 6% for cocaine. [*4]
Does drug testing show any particular patterns in worker behavior, though? Is it true that workers who do use drugs are less responsibility and cause more problems? In one study published in 1989 by the Journal of General Internal Medicine, they followed 180 employees who had an average rate of 12% drug use. Its essential conclusion was, "Comparison of job performance variables, job retention, supervisor evaluations, and reasons for termination showed no difference between drug-positive and drug-negative employees." However, it did state, "Eleven drug-negative employees were fired during the study; no drug-positive employee was fired." [*5]
Drug use does not mean that someone is more likely to be fired. But do drug users cost their company more? In an article published by the anti-drug group, National Institute of Drug Abuse, they reviewed Marijuana users in the workplace. John Horgan, a writer for Scientific American, summarized the study's findings...
Drug testing does not serve to help worker productivity or to increase employee confidence. It defines the relationship between the worker and the employer as one of distrust and suspicion. Its only advantage is that it genuinely informs workers on the nature of their bosses: they are manipulative, cruel, dominating, and they live by hurting other people. They want to own you. They want to be able to control everything about you: who you are and what you want as a person, how you want to live your life, and what you do when you're not directly under their command. The drug test confirms the difference of mentality between the laborers who do the work, and the wealthy capitalists who live off of others' work. Citing one study published in 1998...
Who's Making these Decisions?
Typical drug tests are not accurate. And when accurate testing is used, those who enjoy drugs perform just as well, or even better, than their sober co-workers. The effect of the drug test does not deter individuals from using drugs -- it convinces those with independence and creativity to take their talents elsewhere. Its effect is to alienate the worker and to invade their home when they leave their workplace. And finally, there is another question that is defined by all of these findings: Just how accurate is the information that the government uses in deciding to outlaw certain drugs?
The U.S. government's approach to alcohol policy is known around the world as a disaster. Prohibition of alcohol in the 1930's brought about murder, crime, and the mafia. [*8] As many as 10,000 people died from questionable, underground sellers of alcohol. [*9] And yet, there is not one death that the US government attributes to Marijuana use. Nor was prohibition effective at all. In 1925, the city of New York had between 30,000 and 100,000 speakeasies, or illegal bars. [*10]
In 2006, a study involving one million people had the following claim: "According to the data, drinking a moderate amount of alcohol — up to four drinks per day in men and two drinks per day in women — reduces the risk of death from any cause by roughly 18 percent..." [*11] 3-4 drinks for men and 2-3 drinks for women are the recommended, drinking limits published by the British government. [*12] And yet, the United States government suggests 1-2 drinks or less. [*13] Stanton Peele, an alcohol researcher who has been highly critical of US drug policy, responds to these recommendations...
In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration published the statement, "...no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data supported the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use." [*15] In a debate with the Food and Drug Administration, I uncovered and published a dozen studies that effectively used the chemicals in the Marijuana plant to treat cancer and tumors. [*16] There was no reversal in their position against the Cannabis plant. If a dozen studies can't even raise the FDA's interest in a potential cure for cancer, then a dozen thousand studies wouldn't do it.
The United States government's management and regulation of drugs couldn't be worse, even if it advertised tobacco smoking as healthy and enjoyable. Oh, wait... In 1966, the US government spent $106,000 to make a commercial, in five different languages, advertising tobacco. [*17] The social commentator Bill Hicks presented this policy in plain language... "It's okay to drink your drug. We meant those other drugs, those untaxed drugs. Those are the ones that are bad for you. Nicotine, alcohol... good drugs. Coincidentally taxed drugs. Oooo, how does this fuckin' work?" [*18]
The Individual's Right to Dignity
Who is that's deciding that these drugs are bad? Who says we need to test for these drugs and then we need to root out their users? It's the established government agencies, which hold and exercise the right to prohibit research of drugs. These departments publish misinformation about drugs and give high-paying jobs to those who want to sell this propaganda. These sections of the government are not elected, but delegated by a governor -- someone who can only get elected by funding from private interests.
The opinion of these departments, then, has always been whatever is good for private interests. It is a simple and pure proof that government is nothing more than a puppet show for the biggest property-owners -- it's a capitalist dance. Why would a department committed to the health of its citizens neglect reams of research into marijuana and its medical benefits? Why would it make the statement "marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision"? Ignorance cannot help the people; it can only help our exploiters and oppressors.
Why is it that it is a drug test that is used? The motive comes from the Anti-Drug Ideal. But the method comes from the facts of our social life: except for drug-testing, an employer or police officer might never know that an individual is intoxicated on a substance. In the employment process, it is used as a new-hire screening process or a standard company-wide test. It is not used to confirm the suspicion of drug use; rather, its use is to detect those use drugs and can casually blend in to society, without being noticed or judged for what they do in their home.
They have to pull the knowledge out of your bloodstream, your hair, or your urine, because otherwise, it might be completely unnoticeable that you're using drugs. If there is a valid reason for the right to privacy, it is because we should have the right to break the law where it harms no one and effects nobody -- from reading illegal literature, to recording songs from the radio, to smoking dope. Real dignity consists in being our own masters when it comes to our conscience; and there is no real dignity where there are drug tests.
*1. American Management Association, A 2000 AMA Survey: Workplace Testing: Medical Testing: Summary of Key Findings (New York, NY: American Management Association, 2000), p. 1. Citation from DrugWarFacts.org.