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California Bill Would Protect Employees Who Use Medical Cannabis

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Assemblyman Rob Bonta introduced legislation on Feb. 14 that would require employers in California to allow workers and job applicants to use medical cannabis—both in the public and private sectors.

Jobs that are safety-sensitive—such as pilots, police officers and truck drivers—would still be subject to periodic drug tests and would still be barred from consuming medical cannabis on or off the clock.

Los Angeles Times reports that 1,053 job applicants for state correctional officer jobs were disqualified after testing positive for cannabis in 2018. That’s more than double the number from 503 in 2015, the year before cannabis was legalized. In 2019, 813 prison guard applicants were disqualified for testing positive for cannabis.

Unfortunately, Proposition 64 didn’t include any workplace protections and allows employers to impose their own rules on off-the-clock cannabis use. “I do not think [a ban on cannabis use] is fair, or necessary to have a safe workplace,” said Ellen Komp of California NORML. “Our position is that people can legally and responsibly use marijuana off the job, as long as they don’t show up to work impaired or use it on the job.”

Medical cannabis has been legal for qualified patients in California since 1996. “To be discriminated against by your employer because of the type of medicine you use is both inhumane and wrong,” Assemblymember Bonta said. “Medical cannabis, as recommended by a doctor, should be given a similar reasonable accommodation as all prescription drugs.” Bonta also argued that 16 other states have already adopted worker protections that allow medical cannabis. A similar bill to protect workers who test positive for cannabis was recently passed in the state of Nevada.

Cannabis use is on the rise, especially in states that have legalized medical or recreational cannabis. The percentage of employees and job applicants who tested positive for cannabis in California rose from 2.3 percent in 2015, just before Proposition 64 was approved, to 3.1 percent in 2018.

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