New Orleans is the latest city to take a step toward ending drug testing for marijuana as a condition of employment, with the City Council approving a resolution on Thursday recommending a policy change.
The resolution, sponsored by Council President Helena Moreno (D), requests that the Civil Service Commission to “evaluate and amend its rules and regulations to eliminate cannabis testing as a pre-employment screening requirement and as a basis for termination in the absence of clear evidence of impairment or intoxication.”
The legislation explains that jurisdictions across the country are taking similar actions—like the St. Louis County Council voting to end pre-employment and random THC drug testing for most workers on Tuesday.
The New Orleans City Council in 2021 voted to decriminalize simple cannabis possession. The legislature follow suit, with the policy taking effect statewide last year.
“This instrument is a natural follow-up to my ordinance decriminalizing simple possession marijuana, by way of issuing automatic pardons for possession of small amounts, from August 2021,” Moreno said in a social media post about the approval of the new cannabis testing resolution.
“Marijuana testing policies can impact an unknown number of people from even applying for City work at a time when so many vacant positions exist, harming city services,” she said. “They may also unjustly penalize people who legally use medical marijuana at a time when it’s being expanded across Louisiana. Let’s keep moving forward, New Orleans!”
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The resolution approved on Thursday “signals the Council’s strong desire to eliminate the debilitating and needlessly punitive legal regime surrounding cannabis—one that has resulted not only in the mass incarceration of tens of thousands of our citizens but also in their needless exclusion from employment and economic opportunities,” the text of the measure says.
It also discusses the unique challenges created by the fact, with the current testing tools, that THC metabolites can remain detectable in a person’s systems for weeks or months after consumption. This “represents a woefully inadequate and imprecise tool for diagnosing whether an individual is qualified for employment or even whether an employee engaged in a workplace accident was actually under the influence of drugs.”
Therefore, “the Council of the City of New Orleans formally requests the Civil Service Department and/or Civil Service Commission evaluate and approve any and all changes to Civil Service Rules and Regulations that may be necessary to eliminate cannabis testing of City employees.”
There’s been heightened attention to drug testing policies in the era of cannabis legalization, and interest has spanned the U.S.
For example, the Kansas City Council voted last year to enact a similar policy drug testing policy change for cannabis.
Just last week, the Illinois House of Representatives passed legislation to protect workers from being fired for using cannabis in their free time, with some exceptions.
Also last week, a Washington, D.C. Council committee unanimously approved a bill 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.
Also, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing a new drug testing policy that could have significant implications for workers who use marijuana off the job.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.