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Legal marijuana, CBD oil pose new challenges for Tampa-St. Pete workplaces

Margie Manning

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David Bell is CEO of USA Mobile Drug Testing

The states that are legalizing medical and recreational marijuana use – a growing number – are shaking up the workplace.

They’re also raising safety concerns for David Bell, CEO of USA Mobile Drug Testing in Tampa.

The company provides on-site workplace drug tests and the back-end services that go with those tests. It offers background screening and drug-testing for prospective new workers, random drug tests for current employees and emergency testing to determine if drugs or alcohol were involved after workplace accidents.

“Many employers want to have the right to a safe and drug-free workplace, so they have drug testing policies and procedures,” Bell said. “Drug-free workplaces just make sense for people.”

That’s why he said he’s keeping an eye on bipartisan legislation that would allow states, and not the federal government, to regulate marijuana use.

Under the STATES Act (Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States), drug testing companies would not be able to test for marijuana when doing drug screens in any state that has decriminalized the use of marijuana.

“The language in the [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] guidelines says we can’t test for lawful drugs, so therefore Department of Transportation pilots and school bus drivers and truck drivers could be driving high and there’s no way for us to test,” Bell said.

Bell would like to see any federal legislation that does pass follow the example set by New York City, which recently passed a law that barred pre-employment screening for marijuana, but provided a “carve-out,” with exceptions allowing screening for first responders, people who work with children and other occupations where safety is a key concern.

“Florida’s current medical marijuana law has specific language to protect the employer, and it enables us to have the right to a drug-free workplace,” Bell said. “We expect to see on the 2020 ballot a vote on whether [recreational] marijuana will be legal in Florida, and that could change the way the laws are written.”

Another challenge for employers is employees who use CBD oil and CBD-infused products. The CBD market is not regulated, Bell said.

“It’s one of those industries where someone is claiming there’s no THC [the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that gives the ‘high’ sensation]  and the product doesn’t match what they advertise,” he said. “You are potentially taking harmful chemicals, depending on how they are processed, and the big impact for people is  if the THC level is high enough, they are failing their workplace drug tests and could lose their job or be prevented from getting a job.”

Focus on sales

Bell started his career in the printing industry, and USA Mobile Drug Testing was a client. He was ready for a career change in 2012, when the founder of USA Mobile Drug Testing, Joe Strom, offered him a job as vice president for sales and marketing.

The company has a franchise model, and is attractive to potential franchisees who are drawn to the medical industry and looking for recurring revenue. But some of USA Mobile Drug Testing’s early franchisees “didn’t know what they were getting into,” Bell said. After what he described as a falling out and a transition period, Bell stepped into the CEO job, with a mandate to change the culture of the company.

He has brought a strong focus on sales to the franchisees and he said it’s working, with double-digit revenue growth year over year.

The company travels to a worksite to provide testing, which means workers are away from their jobs for a shorter amount of time than if they had to drive themselves to a central testing facility.

To ensure accuracy, USA Mobile Drug Testing uses laboratories that are certified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency within HHS that  leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. USA Mobile Drug Testing also has medical review officers who can interview employees and take a close look at questionable results to ensure they are accurate.

The company makes use of Department of Transportation-approved technology such as electronic custody and control forms (ECCF), with software that provides an electronic chain of custody.

“We’ve been moving more toward electronic collections on site in the field, such as iPads with electronic signatures that lessen the need for paper,” Bell said. “It still will be a paper process for some time, but anything we can do to organize the data in one central repository versus having to pass around pieces of paper will speed up the result time significantly.”

About 30 percent of the company’s work is from pre-employment screening, with 60 percent from random drug tests and 10 percent from emergency testing following an accident.

USA Mobile Drug Testing has about 20 corporate employees, nine of them in the Tampa headquarters. Its franchisees have 27 central regional offices across the country, employing about 100 people and working with a total of about 400 people, many of them independent contractors.

Bell doesn’t publicly disclose revenue, but he said the company is growing. Still, he’s very selective about adding new franchisees.

“Our brand is very strong. People trust the USA Mobile Drug Testing brand, and we want to make sure that someone who comes in to a particular area is committed to giving it the long haul,” Bell said.

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