The D.C. Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that bars most employers from punishing workers who use cannabis or test positive on a weed screening.
The legislation, introduced last year by Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, makes it an “unlawful discriminatory practice” for employers to require a cannabis test as a condition of employment.
However, it doesn’t extend those protections to employees in “safety-sensitive” positions like construction workers, police officers, security guards, child care workers, and people who care for medical patients or operate a commercial vehicle.
And the District can’t stop the U.S. government from taking action against employees who use cannabis – a strictly controlled substance at the federal level. That could seriously limit the impact of the bill as roughly 200,000 District residents work for the federal government – the highest number in any state.
A committee report on the bill, which received initial approval in April, highlighted the need to bridge the gap between the District’s employment laws and its legalization of recreational cannabis use in 2015.
Though adult-use weed is now legal in 19 states plus the District of Columbia, only a handful of those jurisdictions have enacted laws to protect recreational pot users from discrimination at work. Those include Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Montana and Rhode Island, according to NORML.
“Currently, our job-seeking residents are exercising their legal right to use marijuana, but then are punished by not being able to find employment; and we see the disparities especially amongst Black residents here in the District of Columbia,” said White in a March hearing on the bill.
“This is not just, and this is not how we should treat our residents who are seeking jobs. If marijuana is decriminalized, which it is, it should not be a barrier to employment,” he added.
Studies from top academic institutions suggest workplace cannabis testing may be a discriminatory practice that disproportionately targets lower-wage workers and people of color.
There’s also a growing body of research showing that standard five-panel drug tests can’t accurately determine whether a person is currently impaired from cannabis. Tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive compound in weed, can remain in the body for several weeks after consumed, meaning someone could test positive for THC long after their “high” has worn off.
White’s bill now goes to the desk of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has 10 days to sign or veto the measure before it automatically becomes law.