A Washington State House committee advanced legislation on Tuesday that would protect job applicants in the state from being discriminated against for using marijuana.
The bill, which already passed the full Senate last month, would forbid most employers from rejecting applicants simply for testing positive for cannabis on pre-employment drug tests. Workers could still be fired for a positive marijuana test that occurs after they’re hired, however.
Lawmakers on the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee voted 6–3 along party lines to approve the measure, SB 5123.
Committee chair Rep. Liz Berry (D) said before the final vote that the bill “protects workers in our state who legally use cannabis, which is a legal substance here in Washington” and “prevents discrimination from cannabis use in Washington, just like alcohol is permitted.” In fact, the legislation provides no additional protections for people who use marijuana once they are employed.
The bill’s supporters say the change is needed because many Washingtonians don’t apply for jobs due to fear of failing a drug test.
“This will allow for more people to apply for jobs without having to worry that they’re going to be screened out in that hiring process,” co-sponsor Sen. Derek Stanford (D) said last month.
The panel at Tuesday’s hearing rejected two amendments from Republican members, meaning the bill remains in the same form in which it passed the Senate.
One amendment would have expanded the list of jobs that would not be subject to the bill’s protections, including more positions in law enforcement, fire departments and jails. As the committee’s vice chair, Rep. Mary Fosse (D) pointed out, the bill already exempts positions that require federal background checks or security clearances, as well as anyone in the airline or aerospace industries or any safety-sensitive position where impairment might present a substantial risk of death.
Another would have empowered the state attorney general to enforce the law, for example by conducting investigations and pursuing administrative sanctions or economic penalties against employers who violate the proposed rule. It also would have set maximum penalties for employers. Democrats said the amendment would wrongly placed cannabis conduct into a section of state law dealing with criminal matters.
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Washington State was one of the first U.S. states to legalize marijuana for adults, with voters approving the change on the ballot in 2012. But the state’s cannabis laws currently don’t provide protections to employees or job-seekers who use marijuana on their own time.
SB 5123’s lead sponsor, Sen. Karen Keiser (D), has described the measure as “simply opening the front door of getting into a job,” noting: “If your employer wants to test you every week after you’re hired, they’re still able to do that.”
A number of other states where cannabis is legal already have laws on the books prohibiting employers from disqualifying job applicants on the basis of marijuana use. Nevada adopted such a policy in 2019, and last year California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a law making it illegal for employers “to discriminate against a person in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment, or otherwise penalize a person” solely because of off-duty marijuana use.
Meanwhile, several other Washington State cannabis and drug policy bills have also been moving forward, including measures to allow interstate marijuana commerce and study the therapeutic use of psilocybin.
Lawmakers last month, however, declined to act on a separate bill that would have legalized home cultivation of marijuana, meaning that growing plants for personal use remains a felony in the state.