Operation Golden Flow: America’s Urine is Liquid Gold for Drug War Profiteers

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It looks harmless enough, faint yellow, warm and contained in a plastic cup, but urine drug testing analysis shatters the lives of countless responsible cannabis users each day. It could be the person struggling to shake an opioid dependency, the meticulous worker who enjoys a toke after hours to relax or the ambitious college graduate seeking their first job – many Americans fall victim to the invasive practice of drug testing.

“It’s always amazing to me how even leaders of the movement surrender on this,” California NORML Director Dale Gieringer said, noting those who say people in fields such as air traffic controllers should be tested via urine analysis. “Maybe [air traffic controllers] would do better smoking pot.”

Gieringer is the author of the “California NORML Guide to Drug Testing,” a booklet dedicated to arming cannabis users with the knowledge to protect themselves against workforce discrimination. He explains that air traffic controllers who utilize cannabis after hours might be less likely to turn to more dangerous substances such as alcohol or synthetic marijuana. That’s just a few of the many faults Gieringer says he finds in the practice of drug testing, a system that fails to measure impairment and remains an insidious intrusion on personal privacy and freedom.

Urine testing in America has its origins in the military’s 1971 Operation Golden Flow, a drug test aimed at finding heroin users among returning Vietnam veterans. In 1986 President Ronald Regan signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to institute urine analysis to promote “drug-free” workplaces. A train accident that followed in 1987, in which both the engineer and conductor tested positive for marijuana, resulted in Congress passing a law imposing random drug testing on all federal transportation workers. While cannabis’ role in the accident remained unclear – an official investigation found glaring safety lapses and didn’t recommend drug testing in its recommendation – the precedent had been set. The Drug Free Workplace Act was established for federal workers and select federal contractors in 1988.

The ACLU reports that despite the fact that random substance testing “is often unrelated to the tasks required to do the job, produces inaccurate results, and remains unproven as a means of stopping drug use,” millions of Americans who are not suspected of drug use are tested each year. Last year 6.1 million drug screenings took place within the Department of Transportation alone.

“Employers should not have the right to require employees to prove their innocence by taking a drug test without any evidence that they are using drugs,” the organization states on its website.

In Key West, a federal judge agreed, ruling that a woman who had refused to take a drug test to secure a city job was within her Fourth Amendment rights. It appears some high-ranking government officials also agree. FBI Director James Comey made headlines with his remark in the Wall Street Journal stating that drug testing was hindering his ability to fight cyber-crime.

“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said.

The most pervasive form of drug testing is urine analysis, a test that’s more sensitive to cannabis than other far more dangerous drugs including prescription narcotics. Urine testing for cannabis is also unreliable in showing impairment because it tests for substances present in cannabis that can remain in one’s system far after any psychoactive affects from marijuana have dissipated. This was the case with a medical marijuana user in Colorado, Brandon Coates, who took his lawsuit stating he had been unjustly fired for using cannabis after-hours all the way to the state’s supreme court.

Drug testing is a multi-billion dollar industry. There is no comprehensive federal law dictating drug testing in the private sector, leaving employers with the power to mandate the invasive procedure at random. On an episode of “All Things Considered” focused on the Colorado case, NPR reported that more than one-third of private employers in the U.S. have drug-testing policies.

“We’re not pushing for use at work,” Coates’ attorney, Michael Evans told NPR. “We’re pushing for, if you’re in the privacy of your own home, you’re registered with the state and abiding by the constitutional amendment, is that an okay reason for your employer to fire you?”

Gieringer points out that the federal government has never been able to prove that drug testing increases workplace safety or makes employees less prone to absenteeism and accidents. Drugs in the nation remain illegal unless they undergo rigorous testing by the FDA.

“There has never been any such study in drug testing that shows it is effective in preserving workplace safety and work place productivity,” he says.

(Originally published in issue 13 of Cannabis Now.)

Ellen Holland started working at Cannabis Now Magazine on April 21st because she was busy on 420. Holland has covered drug policy since 2005 and has served as the production manager and associate editor at Cannabis Now Magazine, in addition to being featured on Reset.me and New Cannabis Ventures. She has also served as an edibles judge at the Emerald Cup and is currently working on a book with the legendary Guru of Ganja, Ed Rosenthal. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @hollandbuds

3 Comments

  1. Demonhype

    November 3, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    I have been collecting information exposing the fraud of drug resting for a few years and I have a list of links at my anti-drug testing blog enddrugtesting.blogspot.com. I haven’t updated in a while, but I keep it up so people have access to the links. If anyone has a link that is not up there, you could put it in the comments.

    Thank you for talking about this issue, which doesn’t seem to get any attention. We all get mad over the surveillance state, the excesses of the failed drug war, and increasing employer control over our lives, but for some reason drug testing, which encompasses all of these issues, gets a free pass. Personally, I think drug testing was America’s “gateway drug” into our later docile acceptance of government and corporate surveillance and control of our lives. Drug testing acclimated us to the idea that our bodies and our lives are not our own but are the property of the new aristocracy, and created the idea that submission to internal search was a patriotic duty and that refusal or opposition was tantamount to treason or “haring America”,that those who “squalled” for their civil rights were at best immature children and at worst…criminals.

    Not only that, but drug testing companies have been at the forefront of our opposition. Thefirst challenge to the CO law came from a drug testing company. And yet I keep hearing from uninformed people that dt companies are nescessary and totally won’t be threatened by legalization, when in fact legalization will rob them of 98% of their positive tests and withit the illusion of efficacy that pot prohibition brings them.

    And the govmt pays private companies to drug test their employees, in the form of tax writeoffs, tax breaks, and additional tax funded subsidies (for ex. in OH the govmt will pay a substantial portion of your workers comp insurance if you subject your employees to all forms of drug testing).

    And all of this is just the tip of yhe iceberg in how the drug testing industry not only defrauds but materially hurts America!

    I was thinking of maybe starting some kind of educational nonprofit or foundation to hopefully wise people up to the long hidden facts about drug testing industry. I just need to find some time.

    Excuse any typos I miss, I’mcommenting on a six inch tablet, not my usual.

  2. Gerald Garrett

    October 31, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Drug testing forces humans to drink. Cannabis use expands the mind. Laws set against are mind control laws. I am being mind fricked big time by the biggest con ever pulled on the American people by its government ever. The con is prohibition. Everyone knows it. Too bad money is the number one value in the world. Humanity the last.

  3. Joe Smith

    October 27, 2015 at 3:01 am

    Prohibitionists are mental midgets!

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