Sumner County man fails drug test because he uses CBD, even though it’s completely legal

Special Reports

The popularity of CBD and hemp-derived products are creating controversy when it comes to drug testing in the workplace.

Marijuana is on the list of illegal drugs in Tennessee that public agencies and government contractors test for, with the goal to maintain a drug-free workplace.

But the mandated test may be putting people’s jobs on the line for using a similar, but completely legal product, CBD.

“I knew there was always the possibility, but I never anticipated it happening,” said John, a man who doesn’t want to be identified by his real name.

It was December 27, 2018, when John was working as a part-time public employee for Sumner County.

“I took a drug test for a work-related injury and on January 1st, they gave me the results that I failed,” said John.

Those results showed positive for marijuana, the psychotropic drug with high levels of THC known for making people high. 

But John tells News 2, it’s all a misunderstanding.

“Why is something legal something I could potentially lose my job for?” he said.

John said what caused the positive test wasn’t marijuana, but CBD oil he takes to ease arthritis and back pain after serving 12 years in the U.S. Air Force.

Marijuana has high levels of THC, while full spectrum CBD oil contains all the cannabinoids from the parent hemp plant, including CBD and THC.

But hemp is defined as having only trace amounts of THC (less than 03%)., not enough to make you high.

“It helps me be a functioning part of society rather than be drugged up on pills all the time,” said John. 

Stories like John’s are becoming all too familiar in Middle Tennessee. 

CBD advocates said the problem lies in current drug tests – most detect THC but can’t differentiate CBD from marijuana.

“What they’re going to have to do is break down the chemical make up of THC,” said John.

Local attorney Russell Nixon works with clients like John, who’ve tested positive for marijuana after using CBD.

“The labs that are conducting these tests are using antiquated methods in my opinion or saying false positives from the testing facility,” said Nixon. 

This puts employers in a gray area, having to balance state regulations with an increasingly popular legal product.

“Obviously with insurance, liability is a significant impact,” said Daniel Shomo, Director of Permanent Placement Services at Robert Half in Nashville.

“I think they’re realizing that CBD is legal,” said Nixon. “There could potentially be an issue there, but their hands are tied in most respects.”

But some drug testing labs like Averhealth do additional tests that can detect CBD use for some medical marijuana prescriptions containing cannabidiol and cannabinol. 

A bill coming to the state capitol this legislative session aims to change the marijuana test threshold and appeals process. 

“It’s going to take the right legislation to see it and it’s going to take a change and openness for people to actually listen,” said John.

As John works his other job to maintain an income, he said his job in Sumner County remains in limbo.

“They know I don’t smoke marijuana,” said John. “They know that and they’re actually willing to stand up and fight for it, unlike many other places.”

For those not as lucky, John hopes sharing his story will make a difference. 

“If I lose my job, I’ll be okay. But what about all these people who aren’t going to be okay?” said John. “It’s going to take somebody to stand up for it before it ever changes.”

News 2 reached out to John’s employer, but we haven’t heard back.

John tells News 2, to prove his innocence, he took another drug test a week later that showed negative for marijuana.

John said he hasn’t been back at work since he failed the first drug test but wants to give his employer the opportunity to do the right thing before he gets his lawyer involved.

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