Massachusetts Might Legalize Psilocybin - What Does It Mean for Drug Screening?

Across the country, shifting attitudes and changing laws about marijuana usage have created new challenges for employers. Not only can such changes make interpreting employee drug screening results more difficult, but they also create new compliance challenges. In some states, employers can no longer deny job applicants who test positive for marijuana. Likewise, automatic expungement of some cannabis-related offenses from criminal records can complicate your due diligence.

Another complicating factor is on the horizon: a small but growing advocacy movement for the legalization of natural psychedelics, such as psilocybin. The active ingredient found in so-called magic mushrooms, psilocybin, has recently become the renewed focus of research as a psychiatric drug. With some promising results, advocates believe decriminalization and legalization are essential in combating today's mental health crisis.

In Massachusetts, one group has begun the work to eventually place a ballot question before voters on the subject of psilocybin. Employers should take note.

What the Proposed Ballot Measure Would Do

If put on the ballot, the measure would legalize possession of certain naturally derived psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin and DMT for those over 21. Only licensed facilities would be able to provide these substances, but individuals may gain the right to grow psychedelic mushrooms on their own. However, the law would not expunge any existing convictions related to these substances.

Similar to marijuana, the state would tax the substances sold through licensed facilities. In Massachusetts, the legal cannabis industry brings in large amounts of tax revenue. 

How This Change Might Impact Background Check and Drug Screening Policies

In Massachusetts, the legalization of marijuana changed the calculus of hiring for some employers. However, it is still broadly legal for MA-based businesses to deny applicants a job on the basis of a positive for marijuana on a pre-employment drug test. The proposed ballot measure would not constrain an employer's right to decline to hire someone using natural psychedelics, which can have much different and more powerful effects than smoking cannabis.

However, psilocybin drug screening is not a normal part of the hiring process today anyway. Even 12-panel drug screens do not test for natural psychedelics; instead, an employer must order a pre-employment drug screening for these substances. Those tests cost more, so most employers simply screen for major drugs of concern—substances such as opiates and amphetamines, for example.

Employers should monitor the progress of this proposed ballot measure and consider how it might impact their future considerations. Without specific employee drug screening solutions, you may only know about someone's usage if they have a prior conviction for possession of such substances. Should the proposed measure become law, employers may need to revisit whether such convictions should still be a disqualifier. For now, the proposal's future remains uncertain.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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