Before she crashed the company car, Cyd Maurer, 25, was climbing a ladder of television news jobs.
She got her first gig as a reporter at KMTR-TV in Eugene, Oregon, in 2012 while still a senior at the University of Oregon. The station promoted her within five months. When the station sold and its new owners laid off most of the staff, Maurer landed a job at KEZI 9, also in Eugene.
Her journey up the ladder ended in May 2015, when she got into a fender bender in the company car and failed a drug test. Maurer wasn’t high at the time, but she had used marijuana the weekend before the accident, she said in a presentation in Bellingham in September.
Oregonians voted to legalize marijuana six months before Maurer’s fender bender. Less than a week after her last day of work it became legal. But the drug’s legal status probably wouldn’t have mattered to Maurer’s employers.
Marijuana became legal in Washington in December 2012, but few Whatcom County employers have changed their drug policies and many still fire employees for off the clock marijuana use, human resources managers and drug testing professionals said.
That’s a problem to Maurer and other marijuana activists who see the policy as encouraging employees to drink alcohol and use other drugs,which are more addictive than marijuana but leave the body quicker, according to a paper in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
“Had I used meth, cocaine, opiates or heroin the weekend before the accident, I would still be working in news,” Maurer said. “In my opinion, employers who drug test are saying, “I’d rather have people drink than use cannabis.””
Rich Bosman hasn’t seen many employers change their drug policies since legalization, he said. Bosman owns Bostec, a Lynden-based company that collects samples for drug testing labs and works with employers to write drug policies. What he has noticed is an increase in failed drug tests.
“We used to have maybe a few a month and now we get sometimes a few a day,” Bosman said. “It’s getting better but there was this huge bump right after the law passed. There’s also a huge increase in people who are bringing in samples that are not their own urine.”
Bosman, a retired state trooper, attributes the surge in positive tests to employee confusion.
Kara Turner, owner of Turner HR Services in Bellingham, also said employers aren’t changing their drug policies.
Currently, labs that test for marijuana can’t tell if an employee was impaired on the job, Bosman said.
Maurer hadn’t smoked marijuana in nearly a week before her accident and attributes the crash to stress and traffic. It happened just before 5 p.m. on Friday before Memorial Day, when weekend traffic was beginning to clog the streets.
“I had an 18-minute window to get 15 minutes away for the top story of the 5 p.m. broadcast,” Maurer said. The top story was a fatal car accident. “That meant I had to get to my location, park my car next to the highway, get a mic on and be ready at the top of the show to be on air. My mind was in a lot of other places.”
On the way to the shoot, she bumped into a Toyota Sienna minivan, leaving little damage to either vehicle. Maurer called her supervisor, who asked her to take a drug test per company policy. Maurer told him that she occasionally used marijuana.
Back at the office Maurer told her other immediate supervisor that she would test positive for marijuana.
“He looked at me right in the eyes and said, “I know that that has nothing to do with this accident. I’m going to fight for you and figure out what I can do to help this end positively for you,”” Maurer said.
Though her supervisors were on her side, things didn’t end positively for Maurer.
When she returned to work after the three-day weekend, the station’s general manager delivered a terse message.
“I think his exact words were, “This was a motor vehicle accident, you had to take a drug test, to our surprise and disappointment you failed. Therefore, today is your last of employment,”” Maurer said.
Maurer’s employer may have had a choice about whether to fire employees for marijuana use, but many don’t.
Organizations that get federal funding can’t allow employers to use marijuana, since it’s still illegal federally. That includes some of Whatcom County’s biggest employers, such as Western Washington University and the City of Bellingham.
“We are zero tolerance and we will remain that way because we can’t risk losing federal funding,” said KayCee Luxtrum, City of Bellingham’s Human Resources Director.
Another big chunk of employers—including the majority of Bosman’s clients—are in the transportation industry and regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which also requires employers to test for marijuana.
Though a few of Bosman’s clients have made their drug policies more lenient toward marijuana, others started testing more after legalization, he said. Employers contacted by the Bellingham Business Journal didn’t want to talk about their drug policies.
Since her accident, Maurer has become a marijuana activist—she tours and speaks about marijuana in the workplace. One of her messages is that drug policies that prohibit employees from using a legal substance are a poor business decision.
Turner and Luxtrum, the human resources professionals, said they haven’t seen any evidence that that is true, they said.
Testing for marijuana reduces a company’s potential talent pool and tells workers that they’re not trusted to be sober, Maurer said. And in Maurer’s case, it sent a message to her supervisors that they weren’t trusted to make decisions on hiring or firing, she said.
“The decision to fire me didn’t come from my immediate supervisors who worked with me everyday, who actually told me they wanted me to keep my job,” the former news anchor said on her website. “That’s because my supervisors knew me, and trusted me, just like they trusted my coworkers who chose to drink alcohol in their free time.”
Oliver Lazenby, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.