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Drug users deserve jobs too

25 October 2005

Drug users deserve jobs too

A New Zealand advocate for sensible drug policy today said it was ridiculous to deny people employment on the basis of whether they had used recreational substances on the weekend.

Matt Bowden of Stargate International said people who posed a risk to themselves or others in the workplace should not be hired, but impairment was the issue, not previous drug use.

“It’s getting out of hand when 50 per cent of job applicants test positive for previous drug use and are denied employment, when they may be responsible and reliable members of society who are posing no risk to anybody.

“They might even be celebrities, sports heroes, news readers, politicians and role models for our children,” he said.

Mr Bowden said it was time for an evidence-based approach to work-place drug testing which was based on actual risk, rather than stereotypes.

“Many kiwis like to work hard and party hard. Sometimes we use alcohol, sometimes we use other substances. Practically every society of humans has done this since the beginning of time.

“The issue for employers must be on whether or not the employee is impaired from doing their job while they are on duty. If there is no evidence of impairment then is it really an employer’s business what the employees do in their spare time?”

Mr Bowden said with traces of cannabis existing in the body for up to three months there is often an enormous gap between the presence of drugs and evidence of impairment.

He said employers need to think very carefully about where drug testing could take them.

“More than half of adult New Zealanders have used cannabis at some time or another. That’s half of all adult New Zealanders who could potentially fail a drug test and be denied employment, despite posing no risk to anyone.

”Drug use is common across every sector of society. It is normal.”

Mr Bowden said recreational substance use today was much like homosexuality 20 years ago in terms of stigma.

“When these numbers of people are involved, even if we don’t approve of the morality, we’re compromising basic tenets of equality by discriminating against users of one particular substance over another – in many cases, for no good reason,” he said.

“Employers should concentrate on testing the ability of an employee to carry out their job safely rather than focusing on the remains of the weekend in their systems.”


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