Municipalities Moving Away from Marijuana Testing for Employees

Municipal officials in various cities nationwide are moving away from policies requiring marijuana testing for public employees.

In the city of Rochester, council members approved municipal legislation on Tuesday barring pre-employment marijuana testing for non-safety sensitive city employees. The new law took effect immediately upon passage.

Also this week, city council members in Richmond, Virginia passed a resolution excluding non-safety sensitive employees and job applicants from marijuana testing. NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as Executive Director for Virginia NORML, praised the council’s vote. “Virginia’s first medical dispensaries will open this year, and the Commonwealth is in the process of studying a regulatory framework for adult-use,” they said. “Now is the time for municipalities throughout the state to review and update their policies so they may better align with state law and public opinion.”

Virginia lawmakers in April passed legislation decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses and expanding the state’s medical cannabis access law earlier. Those new laws take effect on July 1, 2020. Richmond’s drug testing measure awaits action from city Mayor Levar Stoney, who supports the policy change.

Earlier this month, municipal legislation took effect in New York City making it unlawful “for an employer, labor organization, employment agency, or agent thereof to require a prospective employee to submit to testing for the presence of any tetrahydrocannabinols or marijuana in such prospective employee’s system as a condition of employment.” Exceptions to the new law include those employees seeking certain safety sensitive positions – such as police officers or commercial drivers – or those positions regulated by federal drug testing guidelines.

Washington, DC Mayor Mariel Bowser signed a similar order last fall limiting the ability of District employees or applicants to be drug tested for the presence of cannabis.

Both Maine and Nevada have enacted state-specific legislation barring certain employers from refusing to hire a worker because he or she tested positive for cannabis on a pre-employment drug screen.

Commenting on the trend, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Suspicionless marijuana testing in the workplace is a holdover from the zeitgeist of the 1980s war on drugs. But times have changed; attitudes have changed, and in many places, the marijuana laws have changed. It is time for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality.”

Additional information is available from the NORML fact-sheet, “Marijuana Legalization and Impact on the Workplace.”