California bill would ban most pre-employment drug tests for marijuana

California

A new bill introduced in the state legislature seeks to prohibit California workplaces from using evidence of past marijuana use — such as that gathered during a urine or hair test — as a reason to deny someone a job.

The effort comes five years after Californians voted to legalize recreational weed.

But for many seeking jobs in state government, cannabis use can be an obstacle to getting hired. Job applicants in the private sector who use marijuana on their personal time can also be disqualified. 

Legalization advocates, including a legislator, are calling on the state to change employment laws. Critics say that the urine or hair tests can be used to show that a person has consumed marijuana in the past, but not whether they are actively intoxicated with THC, the drug’s chief psychoactive ingredient.

“Urine tests are like going through employees’ trash every week and looking around for empty beer cans or liquor bottles. And if you find some, the person must’ve been drunk on the job,” said Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, a sponsor of the bill.

According to the California Chamber of Commerce, current state law allows employers to require “suspicionless” drug tests as a condition of employment.

Gieringer is backing AB 1256, introduced by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, which would essentially ban such pre-employment tests for marijuana use in most situations.

While the bill does have some exceptions, in most cases — if passed — an employer could no longer deny a person employment because a urine test had showed they had tested positive for signs of recent marijuana use.

“You’re allowed to do anything else legal off the job. You can drink, smoke and fire guns, and stuff like that, as long as it’s off the job,” Gieringer said. “So we thought that cannabis should be treated the same way; and of course, drug testing detects use off the job.”

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