A new push is in the works to stop employers from firing employees and rejecting job applicants for testing positive for marijuana in states in which the drug is legal.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a nonprofit lobbying organization working to legalize marijuana, is helping states draft legislation to remove the decades-old practice. NORML, which has worked on legislation in Oregon and Washington, is rolling out a wider effort. Next up is Colorado. By March 7, it plans to unveil a sponsored bill to coincide with what it is calling a "lobby day" to push its marijuana reform efforts, according to Judd Golden, an attorney and member of NORML's coalition in Boulder, Colorado.
While marijuana is legal in over 30 states, job applicants and employees in those states are still at risk of being denied employment or being fired from a job if they test positive for marijuana during a drug screen.
In such states as Colorado, California, and Oregon, where medical patients and people 21 and older can buy and use marijuana legally, employees have been terminated for no other reason besides testing positive for marijuana during a corporate drug screen. In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that companies can fire employees for state-legal medical marijuana use and off-duty adult use in response to Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic and medical marijuana patient in Colorado, who was fired from his job at Dish Network for testing positive for cannabis.
NORML has formed a coalition to draft legislation in "legal" states to ban employers from firing employees for testing positive for cannabis. (The bill does not stop employers from firing employees who are under the influence during work hours.) It should be noted that urine screens, unlike breathalyzers for alcohol, do not tell an employer if a person is under the influence while at work. Instead, drug screens show that a person used a drug in the past week or beyond. A person can test positive for marijuana up to a month after use.
Golden says that the legislation is aimed at ending an arcane and discriminatory practice.
"Random suspicion-less drug testing of applicants or employees for past marijuana use is not just unfair and discriminatory, it's bad for business," says Golden.
Golden says that as long as companies continue to screen employees for marijuana, "millions of responsible and otherwise law-abiding adults" are at risk of being excluded from the workforce even though a person's responsible and legal consumption does not hinder job performance.
Portland NORML's Legislative Committee, in conjunction with the Oregon Chapter of the Employment Lawyers of America, drafted Senate Bill 301, a pending piece of legislation which would prohibit employers from firing employees for using state-lawful substances after work. In Washington, House Bill 1094 seeks to prohibit employers from discriminating against legal marijuana patients.
Lewis Maltby, president of not-for-profit advocacy group National Workrights Institute, says corporate drug testing for marijuana is not only bad for morale as it's an invasion of privacy, but the tests hurt a company's recruiting ability.
"Pre-employment drug testing especially hurts employers because it's hard to find talented people to fill all the chairs," says Maltby. "Employers don't need to block potential talent from the office for something that doesn't matter like off-duty marijuana use. Everyone does something on Saturday night that they shouldn't do at work, and it's not fair to single out responsible marijuana users."