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by Peter Moskos

September 8, 2009

Piss On This!

I hate drug tests. I think they're dumb and ineffective as policy. But mostly I object on moral grounds. I don't think it's your boss's business what you do at home. I don't think it's the government's business what you do at home.

And I think it's a shame that the least harmful illegal drug is the easiest to pick up. Somebody drinks a bottle of whiskey and takes LSD and smokes a little weed on the side. And all we detect and care about is the joint?

I don't think police should be buying illegal drugs and I don't think surgeons and airplane captains should be high at work. But I don't think drug testing prevents any of that. Tests can be beaten. But it's in nobody's interest--certainly not those who profit from drug tests--to advertise that fact.

I also object because there's something unfair about requiring drug tests for low-level jobs. It's not right. Good forbid a stocker at Home Depot smoked weed and watched TV on his day off! I'm sure Home Depot's corporate board isn't drug tested. Corporate boards are never drug tested.

When I ask my students if they've had to pee in a cup, the majority--the vast majority--answer yes. Drug tests are now a normal part of most people's lives. Is that the country we want to live in?

I was drug tested many times in the police academy. I didn't like it. But fine. It does seem somewhat more reasonable to test police officers. When I quit the police department, I assumed I'd never be drug tested again.

Last week I started volunteering at a certain museum here in New York that takes out old boats. I like historic boats and I like being on the water.

They're making me take a drug test!

I was thinking of taking and passing the test and then quitting on principle (because if you just refuse to take the test, everybody assumes you're just on drugs). But I got a little less huffy when I learned it's not the museum's stand. It's a Coast Guard requirement. If a boat has paying customers, all boat crew (paid or not) has to be drug tested. I still think it's dumb, but I don't see my moral righteousness affecting Coast Guard policy.

Tomorrow, for the first time in nine years, I get to pee in a cup and hand my urine to some stranger. And for this I have to pay $45. Only then will I be allowed the privilege of volunteering my (drug-free) labor.

If I get stage fright, perhaps I can relax myself by thinking about what it means to live in the land of the free.

Update: September 9

I was on time for my 5pm appointment. Of course I drunk a lot of water before, both so I could piss and also to lessen the chance of a false positive. So my bladder was bursting when I got there. And then I waited. And waited. So I decided I needed to relieve some pressure. A "demi-pee," as my friend called it. That's always fun. I had to do this twice by the time I was seen at 6:15pm.

The toilet bowl was filled some magical blue substance that prevents dilution with water from the toilet bowl. I'm also told not to run water from the tap.

I could have easily brought in a fake sample. I could have easily turned the water tap just a little bit. It's not like the nurse really cares.

But I don't cheat. I fill the open cup above the 60mm line (you don't actually need much urine) and leave the bathroom and hand the sample to the nurse. She poors my piss into two vials, seals them, and makes me sign the form I get a receipt and I'm good to go.

It's all very degrading and time consuming. I guess that's why those that can only make those under them take the test.


tim said...

I recently had to take a drug test for my new job as a faculty member at a state college, and it infuriated me (but at least it was free!) --

However, I'm more upset at the fact that businesses can run credit checks on potential employees. Not only does this negatively impact the applicant's rating in the short term, it creates a double-bind by which someone with bad credit cannot obtain employment by which to earn a salary through which to fix said bad credit.

Throw in the fact that most bankruptcies are the result of unpaid medical bills, and you encapsulate some of the largest issues in American society, and the ones that the establishment is presenting the most resistance to changing. Seriously, what point is there to life if you get sick without insurance, then can't get a job once you get well because you had to declare bankruptcy?

I'd be happy to give up on public healthcare for the time being if Republicans agreed to a nationwide ban on employer credit checks.

Marc S. said...

I've never been drug tested to drive an ambulance (yet), but one of the girls sitting next to me in a CJ class last year raised her hand when asked the very same question by the professor. She worked at Payless Shoes.

She's probably making $7.50/hr and I wouldn't care if she was on drugs at work for all I expect from that level of retail. Frankly, I'd need to smoke some weed every now and then to keep myself from blowing my brains out working her job.

Out of all the people in that class who raised their hands, the majority of them worked menial jobs. No one was actually tested to do anything of grave importance.

PCM said...


Personally, I'd take health care over a ban on credit checks. But then again, I have good credit. But hell, I also have good health care.


You raise exactly my point. Who cares if the Payless employee is stoned? But somehow the drug testing industry has convinced big business that drugs tests somehow pay for themselves. I wonder if they do.

To be honest there might be some correlation between people who pissed dirty and bad employees. I mean, other things being equal, I'd prefer employees who don't take drugs. Other things being equal, I'd also like employees who don't drink, go to church, read a newspaper, and volunteer in the homeless shelter. But other things aren't equal. And you're only playing minimum plus $2!

I come from a background of working of the restaurant business. And I know damn well that *most* employees in the places I worked took drugs. At least marijuana.

And this includes the owners, the chefs, the managers, 3/4 of the cooks, and 2/3 of the waitstaff. And there were the good employees!

If businesses demand drug tests, I'm sure they're turning away potentially good employees who don't want to take a drug test. I suspect they believe the bad "advice" from those who profit from drug tests.

If drug tests come up with lots of positives, then those who profit say, "see!" But I'd love to know how many people get turned down because of drug tests. I would guess very small. If the tests don't come up with lots of positives (which I suspect is the case), then they say, "see! We deterred all those druggies. But drug tests aren't hard to pass even if you do take drugs.

And the bad employees? You should be able to weed them out without drugs tests.

Outside of the police department, I've never worked a job that required drug testing. My guess is that Home Depot and Payless have just as many stoners as your independent store that doesn't give tests. But I don't know.

Not knowing the data, I fall back on my positions that drug tests are morally wrong because it's none of their business what employees do off the clock. Drug tests should not be allowed for condition of employment.

Marc S. said...

What's also amazing is how many successful people who aren't subjected to this level of scrutiny use. A guy i know who was working for a big NYC law firm once estimated that 70% of his coworkers used marijuana recreationally.