California workers won’t have to worry about being fired, or not hired, for off-the-clock marijuana use

Richard Eastman, right, smokes a joint inside the Lowell Cafe in West Hollywood in October 2019. California employers will soon not be able to test and penalize workers for off-the-clock marijuana use. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

It will soon be illegal for California employers to let workers’ offsite and outside-of-work marijuana use be a factor in hiring or firing decisions, according to a new state law.

Govt. Gavin Newsom on Sunday signed into law a bill that makes California the seventh state in the United States that does not allow employers to discriminate against workers who smoke weed “off the job and away from the workplace.” The new law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2024.

The law prohibits employers from making hiring, firing or other employment decisions based on a drug test that finds “nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites” in someone’s hair or urine, which do not indicate current impairment, but that someone consumed cannabis recently, up to weeks prior, according to Assembly Bill 2188 that Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) sponsored.

“Urine tests are a highly offensive invasion of workers’ personal bodily privacy,” said Dale Gieringer, director of California’s NORML chapter, which advocates for progressive marijuana policies, about the bill after it passed. “Workers should have the same right to use cannabis as to use other legal substances off the job.”

Jim Araby, the director of strategic campaigns for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, called the new law a “victory for all workers.”

“No employee deserves to feel stigmatized and unsafe at work because of an outdated testing method,” Araby said. “There are much more accurate, modern-day cannabis testing methods, like oral swabs, that are able to detect recent use and increase workplace safety.”

The new law provides for exceptions for people working in building and construction, as well as people applying for or working in roles that require a federal background clearance.

The law still allows employers to require drug screening as a condition of employment, as long as the tests “do not screen for nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites.” After using cannabis, the chemical compound that can cause psychoactive effects, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, becomes a non-psychoactive cannabis metabolite, which can remain in the system for weeks. That metabolite does not indicate current impairment.

Newsom signed the employment discrimination bill Sunday along with nine other cannabis policy changes, including one that would seal old cannabis-related criminal convictions and creates a process for interstate cannabis business transactions.

“For too many Californians, the promise of cannabis legalization remains out of reach,” Newsom said in a statement. “These measures build on the important strides our state has made toward this goal, but much work remains to build an equitable, safe and sustainable legal cannabis industry.”

The new laws come weeks after The Times published an investigation into the fallout of the state’s legal cannabis industry, finding that the illegal cannabis industry has only grown since legalization in 2016, with farm workers, the environment, communities’ safety and the licensed market often paying the price.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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