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Washington D.C. Bans Employment Discrimination for Cannabis Use

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

June 8, 2022

a positive drug test for THC sits on top of a employee agreement

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The Washington, D.C. city council approved a bill on Tuesday that bans

from discriminating against workers who use cannabis. Under the measure, titled the Cannabis Employment Protections Amendment Act of 2022, employers would be banned from firing or refusing to hire workers for failing a drug test for marijuana. Companies would also be prohibited from firing workers or declining to hire prospective employees for their use of medical or recreational cannabis. The bill received a unanimous vote of approval from the city council on Tuesday and now heads to the desk of Mayor Muriel Bowser for consideration.

The

applies to all employers in Washington, D.C., with several exceptions. The bill does not apply to federal employees or workers in safety-sensitive positions such as law enforcement officers, construction workers or heavy equipment operators, security guards, health care workers, caretakers, or gas and electricity company employees. Employers that are required by federal law to test for marijuana are exempt from the legislation. 

Washington, D.C. legalized the medical use of cannabis in 2010. Recreational marijuana was first decriminalized in 2014, followed by the passage of a bill that legalized adult possession of up to two ounces of marijuana in 2015.

Under the legislation passed by the city council on Tuesday, employers must treat workers who use medical cannabis the same as other employees. The bill requires companies to consider “medical marijuana to treat a disability in the same manner as it would treat the legal use of a controlled substance prescribed by or taken under the supervision of a licensed health care professional.”

Employees fired for using marijuana while working or for being under the influence of cannabis on the job would not be protected by the bill. The legislation prohibits “possession, storage, delivery, transfer, display, transportation, sale, purchase, or growing of cannabis at the employee’s place of employment.”

If the bill is signed into law by Bowser, employers would have 60 days to inform employees of their rights under the measure and whether their jobs are protected by the bill. The notice must also be given to new employees and redistributed to all workers annually.

Employers who violate the measure face sanctions including a fine of up to $5,000 and liability for affected employees’ lost wages and attorney fees. Employees have up to one year to file a complaint of noncompliance with the district’s Office of Human Rights.

Beyond Washington D.C. – Employee Rights of Cannabis Users in the Spotlight

As cannabis legalization measures take hold across the country, many jurisdictions are including or adding employment protections for workers who use marijuana. Lawmakers in Virginia and Puerto Rico passed bills to protect registered medical marijuana patients last year, while a measure to protect the off-the-job use of cannabis is pending in the California legislature. Attempts to protect the employment rights of cannabis users failed this year in Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Washington and West Virginia, however. At the local level, cities such as Atlanta, New York City, Philadelphia, Kansas City and St. Louis have passed ordinances that protect workers who use cannabis from employment discrimination.

After the state Department of Labor in New York announced last yea that employers would no longer be permitted to test most workers for cannabis, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano

that “random marijuana testing in the workplace, such as pre-employment drug screening, has 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,” Armentano continued. “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.”

If Bowser signs the legislation, it will go into effect after a 60-day congressional review and publication in the District of Columbia Register.

A.J. Herrington

About The Author

A.J. Herrington

HIGH THERE MISSION

WE’RE A CREATIVE COMMUNITY — EXPLORING THE SCIENCE, CRAFT, AND CULTURE OF CANNABIS.
WE BELIEVE THAT WE HAVE A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS ERADICATING THE STIGMA, MISINFORMATION, AND INEQUITIES SURROUNDING THIS PLANT, SO WE CAN UNLOCK ITS TRUE POTENTIAL FOR ALL.