Washington: Lawmakers Advance Legislation Barring Pre-Employment Tests for Cannabis

No Drug Testing

Members of the House and Senate have approved legislation, Senate Bill 5123, prohibiting employers from taking adverse actions against new hires because of a failed drug test for marijuana.

Members of the House approved the measure yesterday by a vote of 57 to 41. Senate members had previously approved the bill last month. Because House members made minor changes to the bill’s text, it must now return to the Senate for a vote on concurrence before going to the Governor’s desk to be signed.

The legislation states, “It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person in the initial hiring for employment if the discrimination is based upon: (a) The person’s use of cannabis off the job and away from the workplace; or (b) An employer-required drug screening test that has found the person to have non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites in their hair, blood, urine, or other bodily fluids.”

Marijuana’s primary metabolite, carboxy-THC, may be present in a urine sample for as many as 100 days post-abstinence. As per the United States Department of Justice, the detection of this metabolite “only indicates that a particular substance is present in the test subject’s body tissue. It does not indicate abuse or addiction; recency, frequency, or amount of use; or impairment.”

Several states – including California, Connecticut, MontanaNevada, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island – limit employers’ ability to pre-screen applicants for past marijuana use, as do a growing number of municipalities, including Atlanta, BaltimorePhiladelphia, and the District of Columbia.

“This is a victory against discrimination toward people who use cannabis,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Karen Keiser. “For people using a legal substance — many of them for medical reasons — locking them out of jobs based on a pre-employment test is just plain unfair, and we are putting a stop to it.”

NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano added: “Urine screening for off-the-job cannabis consumption have never been an evidence-based policy. Rather, this discriminatory practice 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 and to cease punishing employees for activities they engage in during their off-hours that pose no workplace safety threat.”

Numerous studies indicate that employees who consume cannabis during their off hours perform no differently than their non-using peers. Specifically, they do not pose an increased safety risk. According to an exhaustive review by the US National Academy of Sciences, “There is no evidence to support a statistical association between cannabis use and occupational accidents or injuries.”

Said Armentano: “Those who consume alcohol legally and responsibly while away from their jobs do not suffer sanctions from their employers unless their work performance is adversely impacted. Those who legally consume cannabis should be held to a similar standard.”

Additional information is available from NORML’s fact sheet, ‘Marijuana Legalization and Impact on the Workplace.’