Step by step, the cannabis law reform community has been fighting for freedom and equality, with common sense and the truth on our side. Even after legalization, too many challenges and barriers remain as old convictions can still hinder employment searches and employers are still free to maintain “drug-free” workplace policies that really only prohibit cannabis as its the only federally-illegal substance that can be detected by urine tests weeks after usage. With even pioneering states like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, still allowing employment barriers for the cannabis community, it’s good to see some locales stepping up with sensible drug-testing laws. New York City helped lead the way in banning, with some exceptions, pre-employment cannabis testing of job applicants, paving the path for New York State to follow suit when full legalization passed. Now, Philadelphia has passed an ordinance by a 15-1 vote that prohibits employers from discriminating against hirees for cannabis use, with some exceptions, even though Pennsylvania still maintains prohibition while allowing medicinal use. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
Many Philadelphia employers would be prohibited from testing new hires for marijuana use under legislation City Council approved Thursday.
The bill, by Councilmember Derek Green, makes it illegal for companies “to require a prospective employee to submit to testing for the presence of marijuana” before hiring them.
But it exempts many types of jobs, including law enforcement, employees who need a commercial driver’s license, many health-care workers, and a broad category that includes “any position in which the employee could significantly impact the health or safety of other employees or members of the public.” The bill also doesn’t prohibit employers of unionized workforces from testing for marijuana if employees agreed to testing in their collective bargaining contracts.
The employment law firm of Littler Mendelson added:
“The ordinance does not address how to determine which positions could impact the health or safety of other employees or members of the public. According to the ordinance, forthcoming regulations should provide guidance on which positions fall into that category. If Philadelphia follows the lead of New York City, which adopted a similar ordinance and regulations in 2020, certain types of roles and job duties – such as regular driving – may be identified as significantly impacting the health or safety of others.
“The ordinance also does not apply if drug testing is required pursuant to: (1) a federal or state statute, regulation, or order or (2) a federal government contract or grant. Additionally, if an employer is a party to a collective bargaining agreement that covers pre-employment drug testing, then the ordinance does not apply.
“At this point, it is unclear what positions employers can designate as significantly impacting the health and safety of other employees or members of the public. Employers should be on the lookout for the forthcoming regulations, which should provide more clarity. Nevertheless, in light of this ordinance, Philadelphia employers should review, and make necessary changes to, their drug testing policies and procedures before the January 1, 2022 effective date.”
While some exceptions for dangerous jobs may make sense, it doesn’t benefit society to treat cannabis consumers as second-class citizens that are banned from gainful employment. Just as sports leagues are starting to change their policies, employers and governments need to follow suit and get with the times. The Reefer Madness Era is over and the Cheech-and-Chong-and-Jeff-Spicoli stereotypes of the stupid stoners belong in the dustbin of history as well. We’ve come a long way, and Oregon has helped lead the way, but there’s still more work to be done. Let’s end counterproductive drug tests that merely discriminate against the cannabis community.
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Featured photo credit: Darrin Harris Frisby/Drug Policy Alliance