Job Seekers, Relax, Cannabis Use No Longer A Barrier To Employment In Washington State

Job Seekers, Relax, Cannabis Use No Longer A Barrier To Employment In Washington State

Washington State’s Senate approved a bill Wednesday that prohibits some employers from discriminating against recreational cannabis users who consume weed outside work hours. Sen. Karen Keiser (D) sponsored this legislation, SB 5123, and introduced it in the Senate in January.

Under the measure, which passed the Senate in a 28-21 vote, and is now heading to the House for consideration, employees are protected from sanctioning for off-duty marijuana use, reported the Seattle Times. The bill only applies to drug testing before hiring, Keiser explained. That means that employers can still test already hired workers, and are still allowed to choose whether they will hire an applicant based on a drug test that doesn’t include marijuana.

“If your employer wants to test you every week after you’re hired, they’re still able to do that,” Keiser said. “This is simply opening the front door of getting into a job. Because too many people who see that they have to take a drug test to even apply, don’t even apply.”

Keiser introduced a similar measure in 2022, but it didn’t reach the floor.

It is important to note that some job positions are excluded from the measure, such as those in the aerospace and airline industries and those demanding a federal background check or security clearance. Furthermore, occupations where cannabis impairment could lead to a “substantial risk of death” are also excluded, via an amendment from Sen. Curtis King (R).

The Impairment Detection Issue

Cannabis Alliance executive director, Burl Bryson, previously explained to regulators that potential candidates can consume pot legally and still “test positive for weeks later. If the same approach were applied to alcohol, employers would refuse employment to anyone who enjoyed a beer or glass of wine on the weekend.”

Keiser highlighted how making a hiring decision on that unreliable test just does not make sense.

“Perfectly legal cannabis use outside of the workplace can leave metabolites in your body fat and they can be picked up weeks after use in a drug test,” Keiser said. “They have no relationship with your status of impairment or not. It’s not like alcohol, it’s an after-the-fact situation.”

Employers would still be allowed to test workers for marijuana if they suspect impairment during working hours.

Washington is not the first state to undertake reform to protect workplace discrimination over marijuana use. For example, last year California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a similar measure prohibiting discrimination in hiring and firing over off-duty weed use.  Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also signed a similar bill protecting employees from discrimination in the workplace based on their recreational or medical marijuana use. Recently, New Mexico’s lawmakers advanced a measure to allow firefighters to use medical cannabis off-duty and New Jersey’s police officers will no longer be tested for off-duty cannabis consumption.

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Photo: Benzinga edit with image from GRAS GRÜN and Windows on Unsplash

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