Both chambers of the Washington State legislature have now passed legislation to prevent employers from discriminating against job applicants for marijuana use.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved an amended version of SB 5123, which the state Senate passed late last month, in a vote of 57-41.
“It makes no sense to limit our state’s workforce by deterring qualified job applicants, especially at a time when the number of unfilled positions is at historic highs,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Karen Keiser (D), said in a statement released by Senate Democrats after the House vote. “This legislation opens doors for people who might otherwise not even put in an application—and that’s a win for workers and for employers.”
Having received minor amendments in the House, the bill now returns to the Senate for a concurrence vote. Once both chambers pass the same version of the legislation, it will proceed to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D) to potentially be signed into law.
The policy change would apply to job applicants only, not workers once they’re employed. Employers could still maintain drug-free workplaces or prohibit cannabis use specifically. It would also not apply to the airline or aerospace industries, nor would it cover positions that require federal background investigations or security clearances.
The House-passed version of the bill also exempts firefighters, police and corrections officers. That amendment was added on the chamber floor after a panel in the chamber advanced the Senate bill’s language during a hearing last week.
Another amendment adopted on the House floor on Wednesday changes the section of state law that that protections will be codified under, thereby subjecting it to enforcement by the attorney general.
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“Cannabis is legal for use or adults 21 years and over. And we also know…that workforce issues continue to be problematic and employers have trouble finding enough people to fill their positions,” Rep. Shelley Kloba (D) said on the House floor ahead of the vote.
“The emphasis of this bill is that a job applicant cannot be discriminated against because of legal behavior that they engaged in before they were hired,” she said. “I think that this will have a positive impact on broadening the pool of workers available for jobs.”
Wednesday’s press release from Senate Democrats notes that workplace tests for marijuana typically “work by detecting metabolites that can remain in the body for weeks after use, long after there is any chance they are causing impairment.”
“This makes cannabis different from how alcohol and other drugs show up in tests,” it adds, “and can lead to discrimination against people using a perfectly legal—and sometimes medically necessary—substance in a responsible way.”
Washington would join Nevada in prohibiting discrimination against job applicants for testing positive for marijuana. Several other states, such California and New York, provide broader employment protections for adults who legally use cannabis during off-hours and away from work. More than 20 states, meanwhile, provide some form of employment protection for medical marijuana patients. Washington is not currently one of them.
A number of other drug policy bills are advancing through Washington’s legislature this session, including a psilocybin proposal and legislation that would enable state-licensed businesses to engage in interstate cannabis commerce once federal officials allow it.
The psilocybin bill, which as filed would have allowed adults 21 and older to use the psychedelic drug under the guidance of a trained facilitator, was gutted earlier this year through an amendment by Sen. Keiser that reduced the legislation to a research-only bill. But on Wednesday, a House committee amendment from Rep. Nicole Macri (D) reinstated a path to legal psilocybin access by adding a clinical pilot program that would be administered by the University of Washington and enroll veterans and first responders with PTSD, mood disorders or substance use disorders.
Lawmakers also again considered but did not enact a proposal that would have legalized home cultivation of cannabis by adults for personal use. Currently the act is a felony in the state.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan