Washington Legislature Approves Bill to Protect Marijuana Users When Seeking Employment

Washington State’s House of Representatives approved legislation tonight that would place a ban on businesses refusing to hire a potential employee for testing positive for marijuana.

Although Washington was one of the first two states to legalize marijuana in 2012, employers up until this point have been able to refuse employment based on off-the-job recreational marijuana use. Senate Bill 5123 would change that, and today it was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 57 to 41 – it’s already passed the Senate 28 to 21. It will need to receive a vote of concurrence by the House before it can be sent to Governor Jay Inslee for consideration.

“The legislature finds that the legalization of recreational cannabis in Washington state in 2012 created a disconnect between prospective employees’ legal activities and employers’ hiring practices”, states the preamble to the bill, introduced by Senator Karen Keiser along with nine cosponsors. “Many tests for cannabis show only the presence of nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites from past cannabis use, including up to 30 days in the past, that have no correlation to an applicant’s future job performance.”

It continues: “Applicants are much less likely to test positive or be disqualified for the presence of alcohol on a preemployment screening test compared with cannabis, despite both  being legally allowed controlled substances. The legislature intends to prevent restricting job opportunities based on an applicant’s past use of cannabis.”

Senator Karen Keiser, the bill’s lead sponsor, said that this is “a victory against discrimination toward people who use cannabis. For people using a legal substance, many of them for medical reasons, locking them out of jobs based on a pre-employment test is just plain unfair, and we are putting a stop to it.”

Specifically the measure states that “It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person in the initial hiring for employment if the discrimination is based upon:

(a) The person’s use of cannabis off the job and away from the workplace; or
(b) An employer-required drug screening test that has found the person to have nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites in their hair, blood, urine, or other bodily fluids.

This would not apply to an applicant applying for a position that requires a federal government background investigation or security clearance or in the airline or aerospace industries, “or any other safety sensitive position for which impairment while working presents a substantial risk of death.”

The law would protect marijuana consumers by prohibiting employers from refusing to hire someone who tests positive for marijuana on a pre-employment drug test, but would not protect employees from using marijuana while on the job.

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