The Washington, D.C. City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill to to ban most workplaces from firing or otherwise punishing employees for marijuana use.
The legislation, sponsored by Councilmember Trayon White (D) first cleared a key committee vote in March before being initially approved by the full body during an April hearing. 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.
The bill’s full Council passage was first reported by DCist. It would “prohibit employers from firing, failing to hire, or taking other personnel actions against an individual for use of cannabis, participating in the medical cannabis program, or failure to pass an employer-required or requested cannabis drug test, unless the position is designated safety sensitive or for other enumerated reasons.”
Police, safety-sensitive construction workers and people with jobs that require a commercial driver’s license or work with childcare and patients and positions “with the potential to significantly impact the health or safety of employees or members of the public” could still be fired or punished for cannabis use, however.
There are also exceptions for workers contracted by the federal Department of Transportation (DOT).
“Due to the rapidly changing status of cannabis and the lack of evidence supporting drug testing laws, jurisdictions across the country are considering or have adopted laws to protect lawful cannabis use,” a report attached to the bill says.
“Currently, the District prohibits pre-employment drug testing for cannabis before a conditional job offer and prohibits adverse actions against District employees who are medical cannabis patients,” it continues. “Employees in the private sector do not have such protections despite adult use being legal in the District. This bill will change that.”
The legislation now heads to the desk of Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).
The move is also consistent with moves in other states to loosen drug testing policies for marijuana as more states move to legalization.
In Louisiana, for example, lawmakers recently sent a bill to shield state workers from being penalized if they are registered medical cannabis patients to the governor’s desk.
In New York, the state Department of Labor announced last year that employers are no longer allowed to drug test most workers for marijuana.
Prior to the passage of statewide legalization, New York City officials had established a local ban on pre-employment drug testing for marijuana.
The Kansas City, Missouri Council also voted last year to enact a similar policy drug testing policy change for cannabis.
A nationwide labor report recently found that drug testing rates at U.S. workplaces have fallen considerably over the past quarter-century, as states began ending marijuana prohibition. The government-collected data also offered a glance at what types of industries are screening workers for drugs the most and the least.
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Meanwhile, New Jersey lawmakers introduced a series of bills in May that are meant to empower employers to punish workers—including law enforcement and other first responders specifically—from using marijuana off duty in compliance with state law.
In another setback for advocates, a House-passed bill in Illinois concerning workplace protections for employees who use cannabis off-the-job recently stalled in the Senate before the chamber adjourned for the session.
A Colorado House committee also rejected a bill that would have provided protections for workers in that state who use marijuana off the job. As introduced, the measure also would have allowed medical cannabis patients to use marijuana at work, although later amendments scaled back those protections.
Drug testing and workplace issues related to marijuana has become a hot topic as more states move to end criminalization. The conversation has reached everywhere from private industry to Congress.
For example, Amazon recently said that its earlier decision to end drug testing for cannabis will also be retroactive, meaning former workers and applicants who were punished for testing positive for THC will have their employment eligibility restored.
Lawmakers in the Senate and House have both included language in recent appropriations reports urging a review of employment policies for federal agencies with respect to personal use of cannabis. The House version passed in July, while the Senate Democrats’ report was released later that year.
The White House Office of Personnel Management (OPM) also 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.
Back in D.C., lawmakers in April rejected a measure to effectively circumvent a congressional ban on locally legalizing adult-use marijuana sales by allowing adults 21 and older to “self-certify” themselves as medical cannabis patients without needing a doctor’s recommendation.
The emergency resolution faced criticism from some advocates over separate provisions that would have cracked down on unlicensed businesses that are using existing policy to “gift” cannabis to people who purchase unrelated products and services.
D.C. lawmakers have been preparing to implement a more traditional, regulatory model for adult-use marijuana for years.
Lawmakers held a joint hearing last year on a pair of bills to authorize the legal sale of recreational marijuana and significantly expand the existing medical cannabis program in the nation’s capital.
The mayor said last year that local officials are prepared to move forward with implementing a legal system of recreational marijuana sales in the nation’s capital just as soon as they can get over the final “hurdle” of congressional interference.
Bowser introduced a cannabis commerce bill last year, though her measure was not on the agenda for November’s hearing alongside the cannabis legalization proposal put forward by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D).
Local marijuana activists also proposed an amendment to Mendelson’s legalization bill that would allow small entrepreneurs to sell cannabis at farmers markets.
Separately, a group of activists last year announced an effort to pressure local lawmakers enact broad drug decriminalization, with a focus on promoting harm reduction programs, in the nation’s capital. A poll released last year found that voters are strongly in favor of proposals.
At the congressional level, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said last year that she is “closer than ever” to removing the federal blockade on cannabis commerce in her district.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.