Effort to Protect Pot Use Outside Work Advances

The fight to protect off-the-job cannabis use in California continues with AB 2188.

The CA Senate Appropriation Committee sent the bill to the suspense file earlier this month. This can be scary news for advocates of any cause. The League of California Cities calls suspense files as a mechanism for reviewing financially significant bills before they reach the Assembly or Senate floor. 

Bills that don’t pass muster in the suspense file, die. This was the fate of 200 bills in May. It’s easy to see why that might have been frustrating for the bill’s champions, like California NORML or its sponsor Assemblymember Bill Quirk of Hayward. 

But a little over a week later, advocates could breathe. The bill ended up passing the committee by a 5-2 vote. 

Quirk’s bill is partially wrapped up in the overtones of income levels and affluence determining who gets to use marijuana legally. Quirk has received much of his support over the years from Labor. The $1.4 million he’s received from labor represents 35% of the total contributions he’s received since joining the Assembly a decade ago. 

Outside of the National Security and transportation sectors, laborers often face some of the highest drug testing rates, while more white color jobs hardly see any. That rings truer the further you get up the corporate ladder. With this bill, Quirk is essentially attempting to position his base to have the best shot at enjoying cannabis responsibly when they’re not at work, just like his Hayward constituents that work in tech in Silicon Valley. 

Quirk has spent years working to protect cannabis use in California. In 2018, he joined now-Attorney General Rob Bonta in introducing a bill to protect patients’ rights. At the time, the pair noted that “current workplace drug testing technology discriminates against medical cannabis use that has occurred days or weeks previously.”

It’s fair to note we’re still in similar circumstances to a few years ago when we talk about where drug testing is at, but a lot of money is flying around at the idea of defining how much pot is actively being processed by the human body. As opposed to just the remnants of cannabis, like we do today.

While not totally eliminating workplace drug testing, it would move the debate toward sounder science. Employers no longer would be able to discriminate based on inactive metabolites of THC. It still would allow the use of oral swabs and computer-based impairment testing. 

Like the current effort to scale back testing, the 2018 effort was backed by CA NORML. 

“Cannabis is legal in California, and workers have a right to engage in legal activity while away from the job. Yet countless workers and job applicants are losing job opportunities or being fired because they test positive for legal, off-the-job use of marijuana on account of indiscriminate urine and hair metabolite tests,” said Cal NORML director Dale Gieringer last week, before the committee vote as he worked to rally support. “Scientific studies have failed to show that urine testing is effective at preventing workplace accidents. Numerous studies have found that workers who test positive for metabolites have no higher risk of workplace accidents.”

Gieringer also noted the irony around the fact that workers are allowed to use dangerous opiates but not cannabis, which has been shown to reduce dependency to those opiates. 

CA NORML also noted the other organizations supporting the effort that include the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), California Nurses Association, CA Board of Registered Nursing, and UDW/AFSCME Local 3930. It also is supported by the California Employment Lawyers Association, United Cannabis Business Association, Cannabis Equity Policy Council, Americans for Safe Access, and California Cannabis Industry Association.

There currently are 21 states that protect the rights of medical cannabis users. Nevada, New York, Montana, Connecticut and New Jersey protect recreational users. 

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