This is a story about a big change that Amazon made just before the start of the summer. If you find it interesting, I think you'll enjoy my free ebook about Amazon, Jeff Bezos Regrets Nothing, which you can download here.

The story is about marijuana. I think there's good reason for business leaders in any industry to follow Amazon's example here -- at least going through the thought exercise, even if you don't land on the same result.

Back in June, Amazon announced that it would no longer screen prospective employees for marijuana during the application process. I noticed this change at the time, but I paid less attention than I might have, largely for two reasons. 

First, I don't happen to use marijuana. 

Second, I don't think I'll be applying for a job at Amazon anytime soon.

But this week, reports emerged that Amazon is advising some of the small businesses that it works with to follow its lead.

Specifically, we're talking about Amazon's delivery service partners, which are the independent companies that drive many of the blue Amazon vans and solve the last-mile problem for Amazon. 

Amazon has about 2,000 of these delivery service partners, which in turn have roughly 115,000 drivers. Like almost every business in the United States right now, they're facing a stark labor shortage despite a 5.2 percent unemployment rate in August.

Deciding not to test for marijuana in the application process and prominently advertising that fact, Amazon said in a message to at least one delivery service partner as reported by Bloomberg, could boost job applications to these small companies by 400 percent.

I've written before about Amazon's push in 2018 to recruit entrepreneurs to build a network of small, independent delivery companies that would use leased vans with Amazon branding. At the time, I thought this represented an intriguing opportunity.

You could do a lot worse, I thought, than to consider starting a business in which Amazon was set to become your biggest customer, to provide you with training, and to use its size to negotiate lower-cost deals for you. 

But as I also wrote, those enticing terms come with a cost, or at least a complication, in that having so much business tied up with a single, gigantic customer gives that customer has a lot of influence and leverage.

The no-marijuana testing issue is a good example.

Some of the delivery service partners Bloomberg interviewed said they were happy to make the change; others said they were concerned that doing so might increase the risk of employees actually driving trucks while under the influence.

(To be clear, the no-testing policy is only about pre-employment screening; Amazon said in its original announcement that it will "continue to do impairment checks on the job and will test for all drugs and alcohol after any incident.")

But overall, regardless of what Amazon's delivery service partners do, I think this news represents a good opportunity for business leaders like you, in all industries, to evaluate two things:

  • First, if your company currently screens for marijuana, ask whether you really need to, in light of the trend toward the legality of the drug (at least under state law) and much broader social acceptance. Especially given current recruiting difficulties, if Amazon is right about that "400 percent" figure, there could be a compelling argument.
  • Second, and a much broader consideration that really merits copying: Are there other legacy policies -- in recruiting, or in other areas -- that made better sense at the time you implemented them, but that might now actually be hurting your business?

Look, I can't answer the first part here for you, about what your policy on pre-employment marijuana use should be. I don't know your business. 

But as for taking a hard look at existing policies and seeing which ones might need to change to help you achieve your goals? I think that's the core lesson about what Amazon did here, and it's the kind of self-assessment from which almost any company can periodically benefit.

I asked Amazon for comment about its decision to stop testing for marijuana pre-employment (which was announced by Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon's Worldwide Consumer business on June 1), and the reports that it is encouraging delivery service partners to do the same thing.

Here's Amazon's response:

"Pre-employment marijuana testing has disproportionately affected communities of color by stalling job placement and, by extension, economic growth. We believe this inequitable treatment is unacceptable, and given where state laws are moving across the U.S., in June 2021 Amazon announced that we would exclude marijuana from our comprehensive pre-employment drug screening program for unregulated positions (e.g., positions not regulated by the Department of Transportation). 

We remain committed to the safety of our employees and the general public and our policy on zero tolerance for impairment while working has not changed. If a delivery associate is impaired at work and tests positive post-accident or due to reasonable suspicion, that person would no longer be permitted to perform services for Amazon."

(Don't forget the free ebook about Amazon: Jeff Bezos Regrets Nothing.)