As a new law in Washington State took effect this week to shield most job applicants who legally use cannabis from facing employment discrimination during the hiring process, two lawmakers have filed legislation to roll back those protections for workers in the drug treatment industry.
HB 2047, sponsored by Reps. Tom Dent (R) and Lauren Davis (D), would add to the new law’s list of exemptions, which already include law enforcement, jobs requiring a federal background investigation or security clearance, fire departments, first responders, safety-sensitive positions, corrections officers and those in the airline or aerospace industries.
Specifically, the bill would allow employers to deny people who test positive for cannabis a position “as a substance use disorder professional or trainee, or any position as a health care professional licensed or certified…where the person will be providing services directly to clients or patients receiving treatment for substance use disorder.”
While the legislation would not require employers to screen job applicants for marijuana, they would no longer be subject to the newly effective provision making it “unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person in the initial hiring for employment if the discrimination is based upon” the use of marijuana off the job and away from the workplace or a positive drug test for cannabis metabolites.
Notably, the new anti-discrimination cannabis law applies only to job applicants. Employers can still maintain drug-free workplaces or prohibit the use of cannabis by workers after they’re hired.
Davis, who’s long said she supports an end to criminal cannabis prohibition but has concerns about the dangers of legalization, filed two marijuana-related bills in 2023 during the first part of the two-year session. One, HB 1641, would place various restrictions on marijuana products with more than 35 percent total THC, including banning advertising and prohibiting sales of the products to people under 25. The other, HB 1642, would ban the production and sale of concentrates with more than 35 percent THC unless the products were intended for medical patients.
In 2020, she sponsored legislation that would have banned all concentrates with more than 10 percent THC.
Cannabis-related employment policies have been a major topic across the country amid the marijuana legalization movement.
As marijuana legalization began to take effect in Ohio last month, for example, Cleveland Mayor Justin M. Bibb (D) announced that the city had “modernized” its drug testing policies for applicants for city jobs, eliminating “antiquated language around pre-employment marijuana testing that has previously hindered hiring efforts.”
A Washington, D.C. law went into effect in July that bans most private workplaces from firing or otherwise punishing employees for marijuana use during non-work hours.
Michigan officials approved changes to the state’s employment policy over the summer, making it so applicants for most government jobs will no longer be subject to pre-employment drug testing for marijuana.
New York also provides broader employment protections for adults who legally use cannabis during off-hours and away from work.
In California, meanwhile, two pieces of legislation signed into law in 2022 and 2023 took effect this week that prohibit employers from asking job applicants about past cannabis use and bar employers from penalizing workers over lawful marijuana use while off the job.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.