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How Far Drug-Screening Employers Can Go

The following is a transcript of "The Legal Lad's Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Lawful Life," a podcast from QuickAndDirtyTips.com. The audio program is available via RSS feed here and at TheStreet.com's podcast home page.

Hello, and welcome to Legal Lad's Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Lawful Life.

But first, a disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, the legal information in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, I do not intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any listener.

Today's episode touches on two topics: international law, and the legality of employers conducting drug tests on prospective and current employees. An anonymous caller asked:

I've noticed that in some areas of the world, like Amsterdam, drugs that are not legal in the U.S. seem to be fine, and people are not arrested for use of certain quantities. So, is it illegal for an American citizen to use drugs abroad that are legal in that country? The reason I am asking is that many employers for new job applicants screen for the use of drugs assuming that they are illegal. Well, what if they are legal where you took them?
Amsterdam: a beautiful city of canals, the Anne Frank Haus, the Van Gogh museum, legal prostitution, and readily available drugs such as marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Some tourists love the Netherlands for its relatively permissive stance on drugs, while others abhor it.

The short answer to the first question is that you are subject to the laws of a foreign country when you visit. With regard to drug testing, an employer generally has the right to screen applicants, and an employer has a more limited right to test its current employees.

First, our caller asked whether an American citizen, while in a foreign country, may use drugs that are legal in that country, but illegal in the United States. The answer is that you must generally obey all laws of the jurisdiction you are visiting. So, assuming marijuana is legal in the Netherlands, then you are free to get as stoned as you want, and the United States government cannot prosecute you.

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