The New York Times editorial department caused a big splash on Sunday, declaring that:

It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

Good for them for taking such a strong stance on what should really be a no-brainer policy change now. But Gawker noted – confirmed swiftly by the Huff Po – that the New York Times still tests it’s employees for drugs and has been clear they’re not about to change that policy:

“Our corporate policy on this issue reflects current law,” the spokeswoman said. “We aren’t going to get into details beyond that.”

It is of course illegal to, in the words of George Carlin, “drop, shoot, snort or rub into your belly,” anything more fun than alcohol. But what “current law” requires drug tests? What statute so hems in the New York Times drug policy?

Well, none exactly. But the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 requires that companies must drug test employees if they’re to receive any money from the Federal Government in the form of grants or loans or if they are to become contractors. So no, you don’t have to test your employees. You just can’t have any of that sweet, sweet government pie.

It seems unlikely that the New York Times is a federal contractor (snide comments aside). They do however have a rather large and expensive building in downtown New York, so who knows what grants or loans they’ve applied for?

But the law that seems most applicable to the New York Times drug policy would be New York’s own Worker’s Compensation laws, which allow companies to receive breaks on the cost of Worker’s Comp insurance in exchange for setting up drug testing policies. Money talks, especially in New York, and the State is giving out free cash for companies that want to invade their employees’ privacy.

What does New York State plan to do about these laws, now that they’ve made medical marijuana legal? What, for example, might the policy be for the 30-90 days required to get marijuana out of one’s system? Are employees required to open their medical records to the state, now that we need to make extra sure you’re allowed to have that weed?

As we move towards what I suspect is a fairly inevitable conclusion of this part of the Drug War, it’s important to remember that there are dozens of laws just like this on the Federal and State levels. Because of course, you can’t actually make a drug illegal: you can only prohibit it’s sale through countless little statutes. Statutes that will now need to be unwound if we’re to climb down from the high peak we find ourselves on.

Don’t hold your breath, is what I’m saying.

Starting the 19th of this month, Rural Metro ambulance services along with the Rochester Police Department will begin distributing First Check at-home drug tests. They will have five hundred of the units to pass out at any of the Rural Metro offices, all Rochester City School District high schools with Resource Officers, Rochester Neighborhood Service Centers and RPD headquarters.

The First Check drug test allows users to test a urine sample for the presence of 12 different chemicals, including both 5 prescription and 7 illicit drugs. The list of drugs the test claims to test for is available right on their home page. The test does not state that a chemical is definitely in the system of the tested individual, but rather, declares a result to be a “preliminary positive result,” meaning that the kit must then be sent into the First Check labs for additional testing to confirm the results.

We can certainly applaud the efforts of local businesses and law enforcement to try to curb teen drug use. But the fact is that the American Association of Pediatrics has made the case many times, very strongly, that they do not support the use of home drug test on kids – with or without their knowledge:

The American Academy of Pediatrics has strong reservations about testing adolescents at school or at home and believes that more research is needed on both safety and efficacy before school-based testing programs are implemented. The American Academy of Pediatrics also believes that more adolescent-specific substance abuse treatment resources are needed to ensure that testing leads to early rehabilitation rather than to punitive measures only.

Among the objections the AAP has concerning at-home drug testing are the lack of proper training, the potential contamination of samples and false-positive results, the many variables associated with a medical test and the potentially-abusive environment that might be caused when parents use the tests as a weapon.

I spoke with LaShay Harris of Rural Metro, who points out that the packet Rural Metro and the RPD plan to distribute includes literature that includes conversation-starters, FAQs and the list of drugs the test will check for. The tests, she says, are to start a conversation about drug use, not end it.

People interested in learning more about the program can check Rural Metro’s media page here.