State legislators consider employment protections for Cannabis users

State legislators consider employment protections for cannabis users

Cannabis is legal in Washington, but so is employment discrimination against cannabis users. A new bill in the state Senate looks to address that issue.

The bill, Senate Bill 5123, was filed by state Sen. Karen Keiser, a Des Moines Democrat, and had its first public hearing earlier this week. If signed into law, the legislation would add protections for workers who consume cannabis outside of the workplace.

Currently, employers in the state can decline or terminate employment based on the results of a cannabis drug test. The bill points out that many tests will return a positive result based simply on the presence of non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites, which can remain in a person's system for up to a month after their last cannabis use.

"Applicants are much less likely to test positive or be disqualified for the presence of alcohol on a preemployment screening test compared with cannabis, despite both being legally allowed controlled substances," the bill states. "The Legislature intends to prevent restricting job opportunities based on an applicant's past use of cannabis."

Should the bill make it through the Legislature and be signed into law, it would change the state's code and make it unlawful for employers to discriminate based on past cannabis use.

The phrase "past cannabis use" is critical. Employers would still be allowed to decline to hire, or to terminate employment, based on a positive result not based upon non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites. Basically, employers would still be within their rights to decline or terminate employment based on tests that can show active intoxication.

There are some caveats as to just who would be protected from this discrimination.

Businesses in the construction field would be exempted from the changes. People seeking employment that requires a federal background check or security clearance would not be protected either. It also would not preempt any existing federal laws. Employers who receive certain kinds of federal funding or federal contracts would therefore be beyond the scope of the proposed changes. Existing state laws not specifically mentioned in the bill, such as an employer's right to maintain a drug-free workplace, would not be preempted either.

If passed, the bill would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. From that point forward, most cannabis users around the state would no longer need to sweat a preemployment test. No more cranberry juice cleanses, or awkwardly asking a friend to donate some clean urine. By and large, responsible cannabis use outside of the workplace would be viewed just as responsible alcohol consumption outside of the workplace. 

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Region: Washington