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Marijuana No Longer a Dealbreaker at Largest U.S. Dealer Group

January 29, 2018 1 Comment

The largest automotive dealer group in the country is turning a blind eye to employees and applicants testing positive for marijuana.

AutoNation, Inc., no longer considers testing positive for marijuana to be a dealbreaker, CEO Mike Jackson said in an interview. The shift was made quietly two years ago, and shows that corporate America’s hiring processes are evolving alongside pot legalization.
Driving-Sales-Automotive-News-Testing-Positive-for-Marijuana-No-Longer-Dealerbreaker-for-Employment“If you tested positive for marijuana, you couldn’t join our company,” Jackson said. “At a certain point, we said, ‘You know what? That’s wrong.’”

The Fort Lauderdale-based company will still reject applicants who test positive for other illegal drugs, including cocaine, Jackson said. AutoNation is largely controlled by Bill Gates’s Cascade Investment, LLC, and hedge fund billionaire Edward Lampert, and currently employs 26,000 people.

The move could represent the first wave in a coming trend, as marijuana becomes more socially acceptable. It’s also the tightest labor market in 17 years, and companies are vying for workers. According to a Gallup Poll, in October of last year, 64 percent of Americans said they favor pot legalization – the highest percentage since Gallup first started asking, in 1969.

“Companies recognize that they don’t screen for alcohol. So why would they do it for pot?” said John Challenger, co-founder of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based employment firm. “As the war for talent grows and gets fiercer, it makes no sense to rule out a whole segment of candidates on something that just is no longer relevant.”

The legal marijuana business in the U.S. is projected to reach $50 billion by 2026 (up from $6 billion in 2016), according to investment bank Cowen & Co.

The District of Columbia and eight states have already legalized cannabis for adults, and 29 states allow marijuana for medical use.

More states will follow (Vermont is on track to legalize marijuana in July), and along with the increase in legalization comes more employees testing positive for the drug, according to a Quest Diagnostics report released in 2017. From 2013 to 2016, positive marijuana tests rose about 75 percent, based on over 10 million drug tests.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a long-time opponent of its legalization. In January, he rescinded Obama-era policies enabling state-legal cannabis industries to flourish. The industry fosters fears of a looming federal crackdown.

The lingering uncertainty around marijuana’s ultimate legal status means many companies will likely stick to the status quo, at least for now. Restaurant Brands International, Inc., has made no changes to its corporate marijuana policy, according to CEO Daniel Schwartz. Ford Motor Co. still treats marijuana like an illegal drug, said a company spokeswoman.

There will, however, come a tipping point, Challenger said. Until then, he understands being cautious in the current, highly-polarized political climate.

“There is a PR issue here. Companies know that there are people who think like Jeff Sessions thinks,” he said. “Companies need to be very careful about being political, because they want to sell their products to the far left, the far right, the middle, everybody. They don’t want people saying, ‘No, you did something I don’t agree with’ – on either side.”

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  • Kc says:

    I was terminated by autonation for testing positive for THC in my system due to medical reasons and because I was without a medical marijuana license at time of testing… I was terminated after 4 years. I bumped my ankle on a desk and was bullied into going through workers comp and drug testing. My drug test tested positive for THC and because I was already a hired associate who had THC in my system even though it was for self medicating for chronic pain before I could get my medical license, I was terminated.
    My plea was never considered nor heard, just simply dismissed as I was.