Photo by Lexis-Olivier Ray for L.A. TACO
It was the summer of 1986, and journalist Jesse Katz hoped to secure a two-year training position with the Los Angeles Times after completing an internship. A year prior, he applied for the same job but was turned down due to inexperience. Facing the same editor, Katz felt just as inexperienced as he was a year ago, but this time, the editor didn’t seem concerned about his resume. After offering him the position, the editor made one necessary disclosure, “I should let you know, we have a policy now of urine drug testing new employees [for marijuana].”
Katz wasn’t much of a stoner back then, he told L.A. TACO during an interview, but his former roommate was, and he suspects they might have toked up recently. The editor suggested Katz push the test back a few weeks. “We’re not trying to be punitive,” he recalls the editor saying. “This isn’t a gotcha sort of thing.” Looking back, Katz says the drug testing policy was “stupid” but at the same time “not surprising” given the proliferation of drug testing during the 1980s and 90s. Recently he called the policy “cannabis theater.”
“It seems really antiquated,” he said.
Putting off the piss test put Katz in a “bizarre situation.” He had a job waiting for him, and all he had to do was “wait for the drugs to wear off.” So while he sobered up for about a month, he took a job as a phone book delivery person to pay the bills. When it came time to take the drug test, he passed. A year later, he was hired full-time.
The L.A. Times has tested some new hires (and sometimes recently promoted employees) for cannabis and other substances for at least three decades. In the mid-1980s, during the peak of the “just say no” era of the war on drugs, you could make a case for testing somebody for weed.
But in 2022?
Medicinal cannabis has been legal in California for more than two decades, while recreational use has been allowed for the past six years. In total, 36 states have made cannabis legal to varying degrees.
As the legal multi-billion dollar cannabis market has grown, so has the L.A. Times’ weed coverage. In recent years, The Times has assigned reporters to cover everything from bongs to new “consumption lounges.” Last week, the paper sent two reporters to cover a “$295 weed-infused dinner.”
The Times also reports on cannabis from an ethical and policy angle. Ironically, in 2019, they published a piece titled, ‘In the age of legal marijuana, many employers drop ‘zero tolerance’ drug tests.’ The story noted that New York had recently voted to make it illegal for employers to test new hires for cannabis but did not mention the L.A. Times’ own drug test policy.
Current and former L.A. Times staff say it’s hypocritical to test some employees for cannabis while allowing others to cover the industry and consume cannabis on the job. Reporters that spoke to L.A. TACO for this story said they find the policy inconsistent and ineffective at deterring people from consuming substances while on the job (since employees are not regularly tested). Instead, they say it puts new hires on edge and possibly even discourages people from applying for positions with The Times in the first place.
To Read The Rest Of This Article By Lexis-Olivier Ray on L.A. Taco
Published: July 13, 2022
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News