California Governor Signs Law to Protect Employees Using Cannabis

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California’s Democratic governor Gavin Newsom signed a law on September 18 to protect workers using marijuana off work. The move comes after the state’s Legislature approved the bill introduced by Assemblymember Bill Quirk earlier this year.

The legislation will ensure that employees are not discriminated against in case they use cannabis at home. From now on, the companies would not fire or suspend them for failing a drug test. The test done at the workplace may detect cannabis metabolites in the hair or urine that remain for a long time. This means that a person can fail it due to using hemp weeks ago.

However, one of the sections of AB 2188 says it will not refer to those who are hired for the position requiring security clearance of government background investigation. Another exception is in force for the employees in the building and construction trades.

Democrat Bill Quirk who is the author of the legislation said the bill that would come into effect on January 1, 2024, does not suggest that a person “has to come to work high”. The main point is the employer can still take appropriate measures against a worker if he is impaired while on duty. They can use the saliva test to check if a person is under influence at the moment.

This comes as a part of measures that Governor Newsom signed to strengthen marijuana laws in the Golden State. The authorities argue that there are still serious challenges in the industry. Although the governor outlines progress since the legalization of medical cannabis back in 1996, he believes there is still room for improvement. One of the bills signed into law is SB 1326, enabling California to conduct hemp transactions outside the state. Another one suggests tax relief for the cannabis industry.

Thus, California is the seventh state after New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Montana, and Rhode Island to ban discrimination based on a positive marijuana test. However, Nevada stands out, as it bans companies from firing only those workers who use it for medical purposes.

Despite many voices supporting the initiative, there are outspoken critics of the amendments. Earlier labor unions openly spoke for the initiative explaining that a worker cannot get a penalty for something he does at home. However, the California Chamber of Commerce previously voiced criticism in a letter to the Assembly. The letter sent to the lawmakers prior to its adoption by the Assembly warned the changes would undermine the efforts to provide “a safe and drug-free workplace”.

A “job killer” act cannot be equalized to similar laws protecting against discrimination based on race, gender, or ethnicity, the Chamber added. In contrast, the labor unions stated that the new rules would lead to more reliable and effective testing that would detect recent use.

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