Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ask CJ: What if I like pot?

From the inbox, a question that I would have never thought about until now: 
I am a [redacted] year graduate student, hoping to get out of my institution with a PhD and obtain a job in industry in the next year. In my undergraduate and graduate years, I have always used marijuana responsibly. I enjoy pot, and its not something I want to give up. I understand that most industrial positions require an initial drug screening test, but my question is this: 
Do you know how regularly your average commercial company would test its chemists? Are there professionals in the chemistry field, who can smoke pot and survive? Do you know of any chemists who are open about their THC use (personally or professionally)? Have you heard of strict testing policies etc? 
Just looking to get some idea of how thorough companies' "no tolerance" policy actually are... Should I expect to give this up forever, or lose my job/become blacklisted... Or are there other chemists such as myself, who use pot responsibly, off the clock, under the radar?  
Thank you!
Your anonymous 420 friend.
Anon420, I honestly have no idea, having never used the stuff. I have been drug tested once (at an initial drug screening, when I worked for a Big Pharma briefly), and never tested again. I am positive that there are professionals who work in both the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, smoke pot and do just fine, but I haven't met any of them.

I haven't heard of strict or routine drug tests, but I am sure they exist as well. I presume that this is something where 1) if you get hired, you will be facing a drug test before long, and 2) it will be the only time during your career with that organization where you will be drug tested. Smaller companies, who knows? Larger companies, I suspect it's the one-and-done sort of thing.

Readers, surely you have more experience in these matters than I do. Your thoughts? 

31 comments:

  1. I don't believe most industrial position actually require initial drug screening: I was asked only once, at Celera-Axys, and it was only because they recently fired an enterprising chemists who apparently made stuff for his own consumption, and their legal department suggested this is how they should cover their ass. (By the way, it turned out this company treated people in a pretty nasty way, so initial drug screening was probably a sign I should not have taken the job).

    But if arrest for pot possession turns up in your background, then you have serious disadvantage as an applicant, and they may ask you to take a drug test.

    Another thing is, since cannabinoid metabolites last in your system for weeks, if there is let say a lab accident for which you could be blamed, and someone knows about your habit and is eager to ruin you, they can report you and HR will ask you to take the test, and you will be screwed.

    So I would suggest to limit the pot to weekends, a be very private about your habit.

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  2. Working for a CRO in the midwest. Initial health physical had a urinalysis panel. Follow up exam with urinalysis every 3 years. Most likely would be tested again if an accident led to severe harm or death.

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  3. At a midsize Massachusetts biotech I know well the policy is they don't tolerate you being intoxicated at work. Beyond that, none of their concern.

    And I've never been pee-tested in 8 years in the industry working for very small to medium companies. Whenever I'm in a hiring cycle I hold off on anything that may incriminate me, just as an extra precaution, but beyond that it's not been a thing for me.

    As for talking about it, it depends highly on your environment. I've seen places where it would be a problem to discuss (internship at MegaPharma), but then again so was anything that wasn't sanitized politically-correct mush, and places where people rejoice in Best Story Ever competitions, complete with illicit goings-on. It all boils down to knowing your audience and knowing the environment. But there are places where it's not expressly verboten.

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    1. This is also the impression I got at a California biopharma. Keep it outside working hours and you won't be asked to submit to any drug tests beyond the initial screening. However, I agree with milkshake's assessment that if people do know about your outside-of-work habits, you may open yourself up to more scrutiny if there is a lab accident, even if you were not intoxicated at that time.

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  4. At Dow: initial drug screen plus ongoing random drug screens. I've been called in for two randoms in the past ~5 years. I have known professors and national lab employees that were pot users, but none of my industrial friends.

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  5. Worked in biotech/pharma at BS and PhD levels for different size organizations. Never once drug tested except at my postdoc.

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  6. I did find it amusing that a btech I once worked for that had in its employee handbook a notice that it was a "drug free environment". Given the company failed, that turned out to be prescient.

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  7. At Huntsman - Initial urine and hair samples, then randomized urine testing. I've been here 5 years and tested 3X, some who have been here 20+ years and never tested

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    1. Doesn't sound very random to me. Maybe you should cut your hair and stop wearing tie-dye to work.

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  8. To my knowledge, drug screening is fairly standard and mandatory at big pharma companies, not so much at small biotechs.

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    1. Agree. Work in big pharma and did have the initial drug screen, but never a follow-up in 20+ years.

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  9. Had a drug screening along with a full physical at BMS but never any follow-ups while I was there.

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  10. To some extent, it's about who your employer is regulated by.....DOT, DEA, and DHS all have some form of drug screen language for certain employees. For DOT, all drivers need drug/alcohol screens and this requirement can be interpreted to include employees in security-sensitive areas (perhaps people who package hazardous materials for transportation). In the case of DHS, there is a risk-based performance standard that tells the employer they must decide what measures they need to take to ensure the security of the materials on site. Many employers have determined that illegal drug and alcohol screening is a factor to be evaluated. Similarly, for DEA-regulated facilities, employers must ensure security of their regulated chemicals. These regulations are also behind some employers performing a pre-employment criminal background check.
    For our company, we tell prospective employees (before they are brought in for an interview) that they will have to pass a pre-employment drug screen and criminal background check (in addition to requirements concerning possible shift work, lifting requirements, and respirator use). They can then take themselves out of the running and we would not know why they chose not to go forward.

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  11. As the 2016 Chair of the Cannabis Chemistry Subdivision at the ACS, and a chemist who has used cannabis for nearly two decades I feel uniquely qualified to answer this question.

    Many jobs will drug test to say they have drug tested. This will be before a hire and it is likely a piss test. in such a case it may be useful to take a break for some time or seak alternative methods of avoiding a positive test.

    Good jobs really don't want to know. Keep a clean record and it will never be an issue. Do not get involved in advocacy or open use on social media for the greatest number of options. They don't want to know so if you make it painfully obvious then they can't avoid asserting their "official" opinion on the matter.

    Great jobs you can be open and the company has a very liberal policy on legal and or responsible use. The issue is, can you limit yourself to just those jobs in today's job market. Being the president of my own consulting company, I can tell you that I prefer employees with cannabis use history or a personal connection to the plant (i.e. it saved my uncle). There are a growing number of just such jobs and if you were interested in seeking out just such a position then I would highly recommend joining my group.

    There are more than 2 dozen analytical laboratories dedicated to cannabis in the US and COUNTLESS processing facilities that concentrate waste products. The Subdivision which is part of the Chemical Health and safety division at the ACS is a group of cannabis chemists (or aspiring) that has banded together to aid in the industries development and in the success of its members.

    Learn more at Dchas.org/cann

    Ezra Michael Pryor
    President at EZ Chem Consultancy Inc.
    Chair of the Cannabis Chemistry Subdivision
    ezchemconsult.com/ * www.facebook.com/Ezchem
    dchas.org/CANN/
    twitter.com/CANNDCHAS * www.facebook.com/CANNDCHAS/

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  12. The way I see it, if you make it through a Ph.D program, post-doc, have good letters of recc., go through a grueling all day interview, manage to get hired, etc. and so happen to smoke a little pot, very few people in the industry would care... you obviously can handle it... no different than drinking. Now if you are mediocre as a candidate, or are involved in a lab accident, they can and will use that shit against you in a heart beat. Best compromise is to join a cannibus testing lab as an analytical chemist... Im sure there is no stigma there.

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  13. I love how Ezra starts off professionally, "As the 2016 Chair... uniquely qualified... and then refers to the testing method as a piss test. Probably not that funny, but right now I find it hilarious. And please don't take this as a knock on Ezra's credibility or his thoughtful answer, if anything it is a reflection of my inner 12 year old.

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  14. Both of the pot-related terminations I know of were related to use during work. At the CRO where I work, a facilities guy sounded a little off in describing a workplace accident he'd had, so his director ordered a tox screen when he reported to employee health. At one of our clients, a department director crashed his car taking some employees out from the holiday party; the police ran a tox screen. So the advice above about no irresponsible use squares with my experience.

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  15. I have always been drug tested before an offer of employment was given in my R&D days. This was for 1. small biotech ~1996; 2. post doc position at a national lab ~2003-4; 3. mid west manufacturing company ~2006. My husband (ChemE)was drug tested in manufacturing but not at his latest battery start up.

    I know own a tower climbing company and we drug test frequently but this is a different field.

    Following this post out of curiosity.

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  16. I currently work in big pharma. I was given a urine test only once and it was right after I was hired but before I started working.

    I don't use it personally, but I know of many of my coworkers who do. For most of them, it is a recreational, occasional thing. I don't know of anybody who does it regularly (like everyday), but many do it on the weekends or on vacation or something.

    It is really no big deal. I've never seen anyone stoned at work (don't do that!) and I've never heard of anyone being drug tested, either. It is not something you would want to blab to management about, however. Also, it is probably something you do not want to talk about openly to your coworkers until you get to know them on a more personal level. Pharma companies (especially big pharma) tend to have many employees who are pretty conservative, so that needs to be taken into account.

    But, I say: puff away. Enjoy yourself and have some common sense!

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  17. As far as I can tell, the bay area in general rarely drug tests. I've had friends hired at Genetech, Gilead, and small bay area biotechs. None of them were drug tested. However, those who got hired in east coast pharma (Pfizer, Merck, BMS, etc.) or large companies in the Midwest (e.g. Dow) typically were.

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    1. Worked at pfizer (pre 2006) - drug test to start and random drug test. Worked at Gilead and Genetech the past few years, no drug test. Friend at Amgen - Drug test to start, then nothing after that.

      I say prepare for an entry drug test - they'll tell you if they do random tests as well after that.

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    2. I was tested on hire and at least once randomly after that at Chevron (RTC), but that was primarily because of the refinery and having to keep the workforce there clean. There was an older coworker who had tested positive and (after some diversion program) had to keep clean to keep the job.

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  18. If there is a problem, Anon420 can claim he's a devotee of Shakespeare.

    http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-was-shakespeare-a-stoner-20150810-story.html

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    1. Obviously the answer is "no", because Shakespeare worked hard and accomplished things.

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  19. I was hired about 20 years ago, and had a drug test (not sure if it was blood or urine, though), but have not been tested since. I don't know of anyone who's been tested (though I don't know how I'd know, either).

    I assume (you know what that means) that process-type jobs (anything involving large scale or actual plant work) might be more likely to test, because you could hurt someone else or make a mistake for which someone could be held liable, and they would prefer either the mistake not be made or that it not be on them if it were.

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  20. From a few bay area startups: none drug tested and none cared if you smoked pot (I don't) as long as you were sober at work.

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  21. Large company. One piss test upon hire around 20 years ago, none since.

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  22. Working at a CRO in the midwest. We have initial drug screening and get tested yearly.

    Additionally, I imagine if you ever get hurt on the job, the first thing they will request is a BAC and drug test. Just food for thought...

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  23. If you work in an industry that requires a DOE or DOD security clearance, expect initial and period/random urinalysis for not only cannabis use but for so-called "NIDA-5" drugs.

    Any drug that you use, recreational or otherwise, has a biological half-life. Likewise, most urinalyses will not test for the drug but for metabolites of the drug. You will need to go through 7-10 half-lives without use (perhaps more, depending on the detection limit) to clear your body of metabolites.

    The question then becomes how bad do you want the job?

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  24. I've had four jobs since earning my MS in chemistry, and in all cases, there was just a pee test during the hiring process with no further testing after hire.

    From what I've heard, it seems drug testing is most stringent in situations where a mistake could cause a big incident, so someone doing bench chemistry in an R&D center might just get tested once during the hiring process, while an operator of a large reactor in a plant might be subject to periodic testing. Stay away from process chemistry, and you'll probably be OK if you can abstain long enough to pass the initial test at hiring.

    I know someone who's a PhD chemical engineer at a large company. She failed a random drug test, and rather than firing her, they let her take it again a month later. Makes me suspect the only reason they're drug-testing is because they're blindly implementing some consulting firm's recommendations.

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