A Colorado House committee on Thursday defeated a bill that was originally meant to provide protections for workers who use marijuana off the job and allow medical cannabis patients to use their medicine at work—even after significantly scaling the legislation back to remove those protections altogether.
At the hearing before the House Business Affairs & Labor Committee, the legislation sponsored by Rep. Edie Hooton (D) was significantly watered down with an amendment adopted by the panel that replaced all of its language with provisions to merely form a task force to explore marijuana employment challenges.
The committee ultimately rejected the amended bill in a 1-12 vote.
Under the revised legislation, a 15-member task force would have been created under the state Division of Labor and Employment that would convene in 2023 to study marijuana employment policies, with a report due by the year’s end.
The revised measure “brings together stakeholders impacted by current workplace practices favoring medical marijuana patients to find solutions and make recommendations for potential legislation in the absence of reliable testing,” Hooton said in her opening remarks.
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She said the task force would be comprised of people representing business insurance, labor, medical marijuana patients, physicians and attorneys.
“These are recommendations to the legislature, because that is required when the legislature establishes a task force,” the sponsor said. “No one is required to act on those recommendations.”
The proposal was significantly dialed down from the bill Hooton first filed in February.
The original legislation would have stipulated that employers could not “take adverse action against an employee because the employee” uses medical cannabis “on the premises of the employer during working hours” or uses either medical cannabis or adult-use marijuana when they’re off the job.
There would have been exceptions to the protections if it related to a “bona fide occupational requirement” or “rationally related to the employment activities and responsibilities of a particular employee or a particular group of employees.”
Further, the protections would not have applied to workers if it would have been “necessary to avoid a conflict of interest with any responsibilities to the employer” or the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Hooton attempted to explain why she moved to strike the original language with this task force proposal.
After receiving feedback from employment attorneys and workers’ compensation officials, the lawmaker said those interests “would not necessarily lean favorably toward recommending any conditions under which medical marijuana use on the job would be acceptable to them.”
“What I see the value of this being is the conversation and what is produced and this is absolutely the intention of the bill,” she said.
Even with the revised language, representatives of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the town manager of Monument, Colorado, a municipal water conservancy agency, the Colorado Mining Association, Colorado Restaurants Association, Colorado Aviation Association, Colorado Counties, Inc. and others all testified in opposition.
There were some witnesses who recommended further amendments or voiced support, including one patient activist who said that using medical cannabis is sometimes necessary in order for patients to function in the workplace.
As more states have moved to reform cannabis law, there’s been increased attention to workplace marijuana policies.
A federal labor recent report found that drug testing rates at U.S. workplaces have fallen considerably over the past quarter-century, as states began ending marijuana prohibition—and the data also offered a glance at what types of industries are screening workers for drugs the most and the least.
Meanwhile, as Missouri lawmakers work to advance marijuana legalization in the state, the St. Louis County Council approved a bill this month to ban pre-employment and random drug testing for cannabis for most county workers.
The Kansas City, Missouri Council also voted last year to enact a similar policy drug testing policy change for cannabis.
The Illinois House of Representatives recently passed legislation to protect workers from being fired for using cannabis in their free time, with some exceptions.
A Washington, D.C. Council committee unanimously approved a bill this month to ban most workplaces from subjecting job applicants to pre-employment marijuana testing. It would expand on previous legislation the D.C. Council approved to protect local government employees against workplace discrimination due to their use of medical cannabis.
Following the enactment of adult-use legalization in New York, the state Department of Labor announced a policy change barring most employers from drug testing certain workers for marijuana.
At the federal level, House appropriations legislation and attached reports passed by the House last year directed federal government agencies to reconsider policies that fire employees for using cannabis in compliance with state law. But that provision was not included in the omnibus package approved by the House on Wednesday.
The White House Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently issued a memo to federal agencies that says admitting to past marijuana use should not automatically disqualify people from being employed in the federal government.
Last month, a top Wells Fargo analyst says that there’s one main reason for rising costs and worker shortages in the transportation sector: federal marijuana criminalization and resulting drug testing mandates that persist even as more states enact legalization.
In January, a coalition of more than two dozen congressional Democrats filed bill on promoting workplace investment to combat climate change, and they want to boost the workforce nationwide by protecting people in legal marijuana states from being penalized due to federal drug testing policies.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.