My first drug test

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Drug test—FAIL!

I took my first drug test today. It was part of the “paper work” to respond to a job offer. It’s a high paying job with excellent benefits at a time when I have a huge mortgage and three kids. It’s coincidentally a job that will probably be a lot of fun in a group which seems quite cool and was only recently brought into the larger corporation.

Pretty much all my friends, at least occasionally, smoked pot. I never did. The reason was simple and was entirely divorced from the media, school, and friends. My mom said to me when I was 12 or so, “I smoked pot when I was a kid and it was a waste of time.” That was all the information I needed. [Parents: you’d be amazed at how far simply telling the truth goes with most kids. It only works if they haven’t been lied to a lot already though so you’re probably out of luck.]

The first time I just said, “No,” was to my mom’s brother on a ski lift. It was just a few months after my mom’s good sense of timing led her to talk to me about it. I was 13.

I said no to friends. I said no at parties. Et cetera. Don’t get me wrong. I did a fair amount of teen drinking—but only to the point of getting sick once or twice and only out of ignorance, not intentional binging—I also stopped completely between 16 and 17 to make sure I hadn’t been possessed by the voodoo, boogeyman, disease called alcoholism. I was around pot—and cocaine and acid and mushrooms for that matter—plenty but I didn’t care and it didn’t mess with friendships. Well, cocaine did, but cocaine is the mathematical formula for calculating the shortest distance from a decent person to an asshole, so there you go. Meth hadn’t turned up in my day and place. Tweakers aren’t just assholes.

Anyway, it was my 30th birthday. I was fresh in Seattle, drinking espresso like a fiend, writing like an explosion. My friend CM was in PDX, which is what us cool kids write when we mean Portland, OR. I’m entitled; I lived there as a kid. I had just landed a job at which was a big deal. I’d been in Seattle for 3 months without finding a job and I’d just about used up my savings. CM suggested I drive down to stay with him for my birthday which was exactly one week before I was to report to work at Amazon.

CM is short for Chronic Motherfucker. A nickname he got at the time. The first thing he did was mumble his usual, “Well, do you wanna get high?” Knowing full well that I’d say, “No,” since I had or had passed the kouchie on the couch without a toke a hundred times.

It was my 30th birthday. I’d done my bit. I had nothing to take care of, nowhere to be, no reason not to waste a little time, and felt like shocking CM. I said, “Yep.”

And I got about as high as I expect you can get. And we had a great weekend of smoking and Dr. Pepper and sugared breakfast cereal and talk of the bad old days.

It was fun. So was Disneyland. I don’t ever plan on going back there either.

Somewhere during the drive back to Seattle I started thinking about my new job. It occurred to me that I didn’t know if Amazon did drug tests—it had never been a part of my reality; I hadn’t refused to smoke weed for 17 years out of fear of being caught, just disinterest—I did know that marijuana is traceable in your system for a few weeks.

What if I were tested? “But, but… it was the first and only time in my life and I doubt I’ll ever do it again.”

I would be out of a job that I needed. Just as importantly, Amazon would have been out of one of the best employees they ever had. I was twice called the best CS rep in the history of the department in reviews, by different supervisors. I was nominated for the only company award three times and won once. In a single day, I saved the company the cost of half my compensation for 5 years. In a couple of months on another task, I tripled that success. In one year as a solo ad designer, ad revenue from my team went from $3,000,000 to $6,000,000. This while revenue was in decline in most of Internet advertising. Not hiring me for a failed drug test would have hurt Amazon. Pretty damn badly actually.

How fucking stupid would that have been for everyone? I would have been out a good job I loved which made me lots of money. Amazon would have had to hire, no lie, 5 to 10 employees to pick up the slack left from lack of me and would have been hit by a thousand tiny cuts of the blades I deflected or redirected for them while I was there. Who wins if a drug test is in that mix? Who would have been protected? Me? Amazon? You? Society?

I will pass today’s drug screen. I haven’t tasted more THC than a bag of Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chips packs since 2001 when, strangely enough, I was in the Netherlands, Den Haag, on’s dime installing the customer service QA stuff I wrote.

I’m angry that I was tested at all. If I’d had two identical job offers and one had a drug test and one didn’t, there’s no way I’d take the one that tested. It doesn’t matter to me that I’d pass. It just matters that it’s nobody’s business. If you can’t tell if someone is doing a good job or a bad job, a drug test isn’t going to make your managers better, your corporation stronger, or your real risks and liabilities any less. If the two jobs differed by… I don’t know, even $20K in compensation, I’d still take the one that didn’t test. I’m a little remorseful that I’m accepting the offer from a company that does. This even though it’s exactly what I want to do, the people have been really nice to me, it’s a bunch of money, and I am sure I’ll love the job and team.

You think you’re mitigating something? Protecting people with this so-called war? A doctor in Seattle recently lost his medical license because he was judged to be giving out narcotic scripts for chronic pain too readily. Four of his patients have killed themselves since. I had a nasty back injury once. The worst of it only lasted two months and I can tell you that if I’d had to go on like that for more than a year or two without narcotics I would kill myself too.

I passed my drug test today. America, you continue to fail yours.

5 comments · Commenting is closed
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Re: My first drug test

No drug testing in Canada, where marijuana for medical purposes is legal in some provinces (even funded by the Government).

With your success at, one wonders why you're not VP of some department now. I'm guessing they didn't acknowledge or recognize your value.

What will you be working with on the new job? Languages, tools, technologies, etc.

By jody on 18 November 2008 · 05:09

A is A

Re^2: My first drug test

Right before I took a design job I was offered the manager position in an applications group. I turned it down. The company had changed a lot in the year previous and I didn’t want to be a part of management there anymore, though at one point I thought did. I refused that sort of work several times because managers end up baby sitters half the time and I like to work.

The new gig, if I haven’t jinxed it by writing about it before the deal is sealed, is web applications for a medical imaging group. The team is great and they are using my favorite web framework: Catalyst. So, all in all, I’m quite happy. I just hate seeing the machinery of the War on Drugs®. It’s such an evil excuse to militarize the US police and put a lot of black men in prison.

By A is A on 18 November 2008 · 08:45


Re^3: My first drug test

I'm quite moved by this, and your follow up comment.

By Vagrant on 29 November 2008 · 20:49

The Unemployedd

Re: My first drug test

Its a good article. I agree that drug tests shouldnt be used to screen for employees. Its a breach of privacy.

I was wondering what kind of drug tests amazon performs?
I'm guessing saliva or urine..

By The Unemployedd on 15 July 2009 · 15:14

A is A

Re^2: My first drug test

(Updated) When I was there, 1998-2003, they did not test. That was sort of half the punchline and the entire title of the piece. While I endorse complete personal freedom, I’d never hire or want to work with someone addled by blind indulgence.

By A is A on 15 July 2009 · 17:46