Why Amazon is lobbying the US government to legalize weed

In demand.
In demand.
Image: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
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Amazon announced in June it would no longer test employees for cannabis for most positions. Today, the company said it is  going a step farther and has begun to actively lobby the US government to make weed legal nationwide. Amazon also said it’s reinstating the eligibility of terminated employees, as well as candidates dropped in the hiring process, who failed drug tests.

In a blog post, Beth Galetti, Amazon’s head of human resources, gave three reasons for the moves. First, the jumble of conflicting city and state laws about marijuana use makes it difficult for large companies to have a sensible policy. Second, the company is aware that drug screening has disproportionately affected people of  color.

But the last reason she offers might be the most revealing: “Amazon’s pace of growth means that we are always looking to hire great new team members, and we’ve found that eliminating pre-employment testing for cannabis allows us to expand our applicant pool,” Galetti wrote.

Amazon can’t hire fast enough

Amazon is in the midst of a hiring frenzy. Already the US’s second largest private employer with 950,000 workers—trailing only its rival Walmart’s 1.6 million—Amazon last week said it intends to hire another 125,000 people this year. Given the shortage of workers willing to accept low-wage positions, Amazon’s recruiters have a tough task ahead of them. The company said it will raise average wages to $18 an hour for warehouse and shipping employees, an effort to undercut its hiring rivals. Eliminating barriers such as drug testing—and reinstating workers who previously ran afoul of its policies—is another way to reach its goal.

Drug screenings, and drug abuse, are documented reasons why workers, particularly men, have dropped out of the labor force. One study says one of out five American men are no longer employable as a result. Like all employers, Amazon has an interest in a safe and sober workforce, and said in June it will treat marijuana use as it does alcohol, with spot “impairment checks” and testing after accidents.

Ridding the nation of its marijuana prohibition won’t just help Amazon’s recruitment efforts, of course, but it may benefit more than any other employer, given the speed and volume with which it is hiring.

Amazon’s lobbying efforts to reform the nation’s drug laws likely won’t produce immediate results, given the thicket of politics any successful bill must navigate. But the company is notoriously patient. It took seven years before it posted its first quarterly profit. It can afford to wait for Washington to rationalize the nation’s drug laws.