California Passes Bill to Protect Rights of Workers Who Use Cannabis Off the Job

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UPDATE 9/18/22 – Gov. Newsom Signs Bill to Protect Employment Rights of Cannabis Consumers, Other Reform Measures

9/1/22 – The California legislature has passed a Cal NORML-sponsored bill, AB 2188 (Quirk), that would ban workplace discrimination due to drug tests for inactive metabolites of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The most commonly used drug test by employers, urine tests, can pick up a worker’s cannabis use days or weeks before they show up for work and have no correlation with on-the-job impairment. By contrast, oral swab tests, which are permitted for use in the bill, detect actual THC and are a better indicator of recent use.

The bill’s passage is the result of a multi-year effort by sponsor California NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. A bill carried by Asm. Mark Leno in 2008 to protect the workplace rights of medical marijuana users passed in the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. Asm. Rob Bonta carried two similar bills in 2018 (AB 2069) and 2019 (AB 2355), but they failed to pass through the legislature. Asm. Quirk introduced similar language as a two-year bill in 2021, in order to begin the process of reaching out to stakeholders and supporters.

Meanwhile, twenty-one states have passed laws protecting medical marijuana users against job discrimination, and six of those states (Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Montana and Rhode Island) plus several cities (New York City, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, etc.) now also protect recreational cannabis users’ workplace rights.

This year, Cal NORML is joined by strong support for AB 2188 from unions on behalf of their members. It is supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), California Nurses Association, CA Board of Registered Nursing, and UDW/AFSCME Local 3930.

“California has always been a leader in the cannabis industry, and we must lead once again by prohibiting discrimination against people who consume cannabis when they are off-the-job,” said Amber Baur, executive director, United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council. “Using an outdated test to determine workplace impairment does not increase workplace safety—it only causes employees to feel unsafe and harassed at work. We’re proud to support AB 2188 because it’s time for the law to keep up with science.”

“Our members and the people we care for live in communities most likely to be discriminated against for the legal consumption of cannabis. This practice must end,” said Doug Moore, Executive Director, UDW/AFSCME 3930.

“Urine tests are a highly offensive invasion of workers’ personal bodily privacy,” said Cal NORML director Dale Gieringer.  “They are too frequently abused to discriminate against unpopular workers and minorities.  Workers should have the same right to use cannabis as to use other legal substances off the job.”

Other supporters include the California Employment Lawyers Association, Cannabis Equity Policy Council, Americans for Safe Access, Drug Policy Alliance, United Cannabis Business Association and California Cannabis Industry Association, and Origins Council, among others. The California Chamber of Commerce has removed the bill from its “job killer” list after amendments were taken in the Senate. The cities of Oakland and San Francisco have passed resolutions last year in favor of the measure.

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