Viva Las Vegas: Caesars Entertainment No Longer Screening for Marijuana Use

You probably knew this day would come: Companies across America are quietly dropping marijuana from the drug tests they give to prospective employees.

The latest to do so this week is casino giant Caesars Entertainment, owners of such famous properties as Harrah’s Las Vegas, The Flamingo, Caesars Palace, Paris Las Vegas, and the Planet Hollywood Hotel & Casino. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, the company said that “the need for good workers, coupled with the state’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana use, has ended pre-employment testing for pot.”

Nevada voters approved a ballot initiative in 2016 to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, effective January 1, 2017. Medical use of marijuana had been legalized statewide back in 2000.

But Viva Las Vegas — Caesars’ change of heart isn’t unique.

Dropping Cannabis Screening to Help Fill More Jobs

The Associated Press reports that employers nationwide “are quietly taking what once would have been a radical step: They’re dropping marijuana from the drug tests they require of prospective employees. Marijuana testing — a fixture at large American employers for at least 30 years — excludes too many potential workers, experts say,” at a time when filling jobs is more challenging than it’s been in nearly two decades.

“It has come out of nowhere,” said Michael Clarkson, head of the drug testing practice employment at law firm Ogletree Deakins. “I have heard from lots of clients things like, ‘I can’t staff the third shift and test for marijuana.'”

Speculation is that this is a trend that’s likely to grow as more states consider legalizing cannabis for recreational use. According to the AP, Michigan could become the 10th state to do so in November, and “Missouri appears on track to become the 30th state to allow medical pot use.”

And although the rapid growth of marijuana legalization is a big factor in removing cannabis screening from pre-employment drug tests, the bigger factor is a pragmatic one: Many companies and job sectors are struggling to find enough qualified workers,

Associated Press interviews with hiring executives, employment lawyers, and staffing agencies that help employers fill jobs, show that dropping marijuana testing is among the steps more and more companies are taking to expand their pool of job applicants.

First Major Shift in Workplace Drug Policies Since the ’80s

This is what it driving the change at Caesars Entertainment:

“A number of states have changed their laws and we felt we might be missing some good candidates because of the marijuana issue and we felt that pre-screening for marijuana was on the whole, counterproductive,” according to Rich Broome, executive vice president of corporate communications and community affairs for Caesars. “If somebody is believed to be using or high at work, then we would continue to screen for marijuana and other drugs.”

Broome also told the Review Journal that there are some driver jobs that would still require pre-employment screening for marijuana.

“There are certain jobs which there are U.S. Department of Transportation requirements that we’re mandated to pre-screen for marijuana,” he said. “So we’ll still screen for those.”

According to The Associated Press, “excluding marijuana from testing marks the first major shift in workplace drug policies since employers began regularly screening applicants in the late 1980s. They did so after a federal law required that government contractors maintain drug-free workplaces. Many private businesses adopted their own mandatory drug testing of applicants.”

For Employers, a Most Pragmatic Approach

Here’s my take: What took so long?

No one who recruits and hires employees should be surprised by the easing of pre-employment tests for marijuana. In fact, the biggest surprise has been that more businesses haven’t started to do this sooner, especially after California, the most populous state with almost 40 million residents, voted to legalize recreational cannabis back in November 2016.

Plus, the stigma surrounding marijuana use is eroding as more states legalize it. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) support legalizing pot, according to Gallup. That’s the highest approval rate it has found in a half-century of surveys.

However, employers tend to be a conservative lot, and the possibility of federal penalties loom large for many organizations as long as marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. That’s why so many have delayed making any changes in their pre-screening testing.

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My experience is that when large companies like Caesars Entertainment make changes like this, others finally get the courage to step up and do the same.

There’s also one more factor that may come into the play: a softening of the hardline stance on cannabis by the Trump Administration and the Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department.

As the Las Vegas Review Journal notes, “Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta suggested at a congressional hearing last month that employers should take a “step back” on drug testing.

“We have all these Americans that are looking to work,” Acosta said. “Are we aligning our … drug testing policies with what’s right for the workforce?”

It’s a good question, but again, a pragmatic one. When you’re scrambling for enough qualified candidates to fill a fistful of job openings, arbitrarily ruling out people who use a little marijuana in a state that has legalized such use may be a bit short-sighted.

It will be interesting how quickly other companies follow Caesars and jump on board the bandwagon.

John Hollon

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.