A Washington, D.C. law went into effect on Thursday that bans most private workplaces from firing or otherwise punishing employees for marijuana use during non-work hours.
This comes exactly one year after Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) signed the legislation, which then prompted a 60-day congressional review period during which federal lawmakers opted not to block the measure.
The reform is designed to expand on a previous measure lawmakers approved to protect local government employees against workplace discrimination due to their use of medical cannabis by covering workers in private businesses.
The law will “prohibit employers from firing, failing to hire, or taking other personnel actions against an individual for use of cannabis, participating in the medical cannabis program, or failure to pass an employer-required or requested cannabis drug test, unless the position is designated safety sensitive or for other enumerated reasons,” the text says.
Police, safety-sensitive construction workers and people with jobs that require a commercial driver’s license or work with childcare and patients and positions “with the potential to significantly impact the health or safety of employees or members of the public” could still be fired or punished for cannabis use, however.
There are also exceptions for workers contracted by the federal Department of Transportation (DOT), which has separately revised its own drug testing policies for marijuana amid a driver shortage.
“Due to the rapidly changing status of cannabis and the lack of evidence supporting drug testing laws, jurisdictions across the country are considering or have adopted laws to protect lawful cannabis use,” a report attached to the newly enacted D.C. bill says.
“Currently, the District prohibits pre-employment drug testing for cannabis before a conditional job offer and prohibits adverse actions against District employees who are medical cannabis patients,” it continues. “Employees in the private sector do not have such protections despite adult use being legal in the District. This bill will change that.”
Employers must notify workers about the policy change, and the law also lays out penalties for employers who violate its provisions.
While the bill was formally enacted last October, it says that its key provisions begin applying “365 days after the Mayor approves this act,” which is Thursday.
The new law is taking effect on the same day that a House committee approved a spending bill that again contains a rider that blocks D.C. from using its local tax dollars to create a system of regulated cannabis sales, despite voters approving legalization in 2014.
When it was being marked up in a subcommittee in June, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said she was “outraged” to see the cannabis ban and other anti-home rule riders included in the legislation.
At a House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing in May, Chairman James Comer (R-KY) seemed sympathetic to the problem, telling the mayor that her separate comments about the rider were among the “things that caught my attention.”
“I didn’t know what the law was on that,” he said. “We’re researching that.”
A coalition of local, state and national advocacy organizations asked the U.S. attorney general last year to formally adopt a policy of non-enforcement to allow the District to legalize marijuana sales even in light of the ongoing congressional ban.
A poll released last year found that D.C. voters strongly support marijuana legalization and oppose a crackdown on the cannabis “gifting” market that’s emerged in the absence of regulated sales.
Meanwhile, Congress did allow another D.C. law to go into effect in March that makes fundamental changes to the District’s medical marijuana program.
The measure includes reforms such as eliminating cannabis business licensing caps, providing tax relief to operators, further promoting social equity and creating new regulated business categories such as on-site consumption facilities and cannabis cooking classes.
The Medical Cannabis Amendment Act further codifies that adults can self-certify as medical marijuana patients—a policy that’s served as a partial workaround of the federal rider.
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With respect to cannabis and employment policy, there have been numerous changes to the rules for workers as more states have enacted legalization.
For example, Michigan officials approved changes to the state’s employment policy on Wednesday, making it so applicants for most government jobs will no longer be subject to pre-employment drug testing for marijuana.
A California Assembly committee approved a Senate-passed bill last week that would prohibit employers from asking job applicants about prior marijuana use.
In May, the governor of Washington State signed a bill into law that will protect workers from facing employment discrimination during the hiring process over their lawful use of marijuana.
That means Washington has joined Nevada in prohibiting discrimination against job applicants for testing positive for marijuana. New York also provides broader employment protections for adults who legally use cannabis during off-hours and away from work.
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
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