David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
There's nothing like a shortage to make companies refocus their planning on the bottom line -- after years of government subsidized marketing and "Drug Free Workplace" rhetoric, workplace drug testing, having peaked at nearly 2/3 of all businesses surveyed, has now dropped to under half. Why? In today's tight labor market, more and more businesses have found they can't afford the understaffing that would result.
As a result, American businesses have had to hire some regular drug users in order to be able to function in today's economy. With that decision, the picture painted by our government and the drug testing industry of the drug user as a hazard to safety and profits goes out the window. Instead, the typical drug user is now seen, by a majority of businesses, as a productive, necessary part of the team, whose personal habits should be left private so long as their job performance is up to par.
America, in other words, needs its drug users.
Not to say that America necessarily needs people to use drugs; nor to suggest that drug users are better at their jobs than non-users, nor anything of the sort. Just that some -- no, a lot of -- Americans do use drugs, and their numbers are such that the rest of us have to work with them, live with them, hire them, so that our economic well-being and overall standard of living doesn't fall.
The extreme case may make the point more dramatically: Suppose that all of our businesses got together and decided that on a single day, in one fell swoop, all of their employees would be given an unannounced drug test, and that those who tested positive would be fired or placed on leave. The result would be economic upheaval on a scale not seen since the Great Depression.
Slogans like "drugs don't work" and "drugs are for losers" notwithstanding, businesses facing shortages -- in this case employee shortages -- will do what makes the most economic sense. In some cases, the true substance abuse cases, the slogans might even have some correspondence to reality, though not in a particularly thoughtful way. But most users aren't addicts, don't disrupt the lives of their employers or friends or families, and -- as it turns out -- make up a necessary component of the work force on whom all of us directly or indirectly depend.
Do these same people, needed on the job and contributing to the welfare of the nation, deserve to be criminalized? Does criminalizing them make economic sense? Does it make moral sense?
A new drug policy should instead recognize the interconnectedness and interdependence of all Americans -- indeed, of all people -- and treat them with the respect and dignity that contributing members of society deserve.