Ban on firing employees for failed marijuana tests: Is DC right to pass bill?


Fact Box

  • Washington DC City Council passed the Cannabis Employment Protections Amendment Act bill (B24-0109) on June 7, 2022, that would ban employers from firing employees who fail marijuana drug tests. However, “employers won’t be considered in violation of the legislation if they are acting under federal guidelines, or if an employee consumed marijuana at work or while performing work-related duties.” 
  • According to a 2022 Blind survey from 2,514 US professionals, 29% of the workers admitted they used cannabis while at work. 
  • As of March 27, 2022, marijuana is legal in 19 states, Washington DC, and Guam for adults 21 and older. However, it is still illegal at the federal level as a Schedule 1 drug. 
  • According to Healthline, marijuana has been found to cause cognitive impairments that “affect decision making, memory, and the ability to complete mental tasks.”

Curtice (No)

Washington, DC's city council has approved a bill that would ban employers from firing employees who fail marijuana drug tests. This is just one more layer of government control that hamstrings employers from deciding for themselves what the best course of action is for their businesses. 

If an employer cannot fire an employee who fails a marijuana drug test, then the purpose of taking drug tests is erased. The bill does not cover people working in 'safety-sensitive' occupations, such as police, security guards, construction workers, heavy machinery operators, health care workers, and caretakers. This implies that the DC city council acknowledges marijuana can impair employees in the workplace but seems unconcerned if it is not one of the aforementioned occupations.

According to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, employees who tested positive for marijuana had 55% more industrial accidents, 85% more injuries, and 75% greater absenteeism compared to those who tested negative. Just because one is not in a 'safety-sensitive' occupation does not mean that someone who is impaired from marijuana use cannot cause harm or injury or otherwise put the employer at risk. 

An employer will certainly face lawsuits should an impaired employee cause injury or other harm to another party—something that could be avoided should employers maintain their right to address an employee with a positive marijuana test as that employer sees fit. That employer could face OSHA penalties. Finally, if nothing else, marijuana is still illegal under federal law. All of this clearly uncovers the unwise path the DC city council wishes to take in the name of social justice.

Elisa (Yes)

DC has recently passed a bill to protect employees who have failed marijuana tests, which has predictably stirred up controversy. It is important to note that the bill does not protect employees from consuming marijuana at work, but rather, it protects them from use outside of work. Also, specific jobs that require a commercial driver's license, police, childcare, and other safety and health-sensitive positions would not be protected under this bill. 

The American workforce is already in shambles, and ending fruitless drug testing and laws could help increase jobs. While there are arguments for testing 'harder drugs,' marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco and should be treated that way. This bill could have a significant impact on the labor shortage in the United States, especially if other areas follow suit. 

Again, these laws do not protect people who illegally use marijuana while on the job, and studies show using marijuana outside of work does not affect overall productivity. Rather, it would protect those who use marijuana safely and responsibly, such as for medicinal purposes so that they can function at work in the first place. 

More and more states are making marijuana legal, so punishing people for what they do outside of work is unfair, especially when one considers that cannabis is one of the safest substances available. After all, they have yet to develop a test that can accurately judge the impairment of marijuana in the workplace. America's views on weed and its perception of recreational users have changed over the past 25 years. It is time to modernize our laws to catch up with this progressive perception, especially when it comes to safe and responsible cannabis practices that may ultimately improve people's lives.

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