Legal pot a windfall for screening companies

Colorado recreational marijuana dispensaries aren’t the only businesses to benefit from Amendment 64. Local drug-testing centers also have seen more business since recreational pot’s retail debut at the beginning of the year.

Lynette Crow-Iverson is CEO of Conspire in Colorado Springs, a local drug-screening company on Garden of the Gods Road that also specializes in background checks, and DNA and pre-employment fitness testing. She said business was good prior to Amendment 64’s passage, mainly because of government-mandated drug screenings, but it’s been booming since Jan. 1.

“Business has been up 30 percent since the beginning of the year,” she said. “That’s a combination of schools, employers and sports clubs.”

Jeremy Erzinger, business manager and counselor with Beyond Milestones on the east side of town, said he has seen an increase in tests coming back positive for marijuana, and the biggest increase has been with adolescents.

“We used to see groups of three or four kids, but in the last three months, there are eight to 10 in a group,” Erzinger said, adding that Beyond Milestones works with School District 11 and has had an increase in students from Falcon District 49. He explained adolescents are sent by parents, the school district or a judge.

“We’re a business, and we’ve definitely seen an increase in business. It’s just sad the toll it’s taking,” he said.

Obvious exception

Crow-Iverson said Conspire tests for a range of substances, and many positive results for those substances have remained static the past few years, with one glaring exception. Positive results for marijuana have nearly doubled since last year, she said.

Conspire handles mandated and non-mandated drug testing. The law requires, for example, any Department of Transportation employee to pass a pre-employment screening and then random testing during employment. Crow-Iverson said even without recreational marijuana making its way into retail shops in Pueblo and Denver, Conspire still would have plenty of business with mandated testing. But non-mandated testing has driven the latest spike in traffic.

“In the last five years, student drug testing has gone through the roof,” she said. “We saw an increase when medical marijuana [was legalized], I think because it was seen as safe and was more available.”

Crow-Iverson said that in addition to more private schools and even some public schools utilizing Conspire’s services, large companies are seeking financial benefits from pre-employment testing. She explained that companies’ modification rates, an insurance rate based on employee safety, are discounted if employees are tested.

“It’s cheaper to do pre-employment screening and random testing than to pay for an accident and the insurance,” Crow-Iverson said.

Specific rules must be followed for mandatory testing, and Conspire carries those regulations over to its non-mandated testing for consistency’s sake. Crow-Iverson said the only difference is that non-mandated testing can be done in-house, while mandated testing must be done at an offsite lab.

If there is a suspicious specimen — also known as a non-negative — Conspire’s onsite physician contacts the donor to discuss why the specimen may be positive. Only a physician can determine whether a specimen has tested positive, she said, as prescription medications sometimes create false positives.

Crow-Iverson added that, in addition to more positive marijuana tests, she and her staff have seen a significant increase in people from outside Colorado needing pre-employment screenings.

“One in three IDs we check are from outside Colorado,” she said. “People are moving here for the legal pot, but don’t realize that employers can still have them tested and don’t have to hire them.”

Written into Amendment 64 is a clause stating: “Nothing in this section is intended to require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale or growing of marijuana in the workplace or to affect the ability of employers to have policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees.”

Even the use of medical marijuana, which can only be sold to patients after consulting a physician, is prohibited by many local and state entities, including police and fire departments.

“Part of the problem is that we don’t have the science to test intoxication,” Crow-Iverson said. “So zero tolerance means zero tolerance. You might not be intoxicated at work, but until they can test that, companies are playing it safe and saying you can’t test positive at all.”

Problems regardless

Steve Rausch, a treatment provider at Front Range Institute, whose services include substance-abuse treatment and counseling, said he has not seen an increase in marijuana-related referrals, but he does not deal with court-ordered cases.

“I haven’t seen an uptick in business because of legalized marijuana,” Rausch said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if other providers have. The uptick in numbers I’ve seen are of people who no longer see marijuana as a drug. That provides difficulty for treatment providers as part of our assessments.”

Rausch said the marijuana users he treats are less likely to correlate marijuana use with drug use because pot is now legal.

“I wouldn’t argue if it’s legal or not,” he said. “It still presents clinical problems, much like alcohol, which has been legal since the end of prohibition.”

He said the attitude of many marijuana users has been that if they are let go by an employer, they’ll simply find another job with more liberal marijuana policies.

“I thought it was difficult to find a job,” Rausch said. “Apparently not.”