A California bill to provide broad employment protections for workers who use marijuana off the job is now heading to the governor’s desk following a final vote in the Assembly.
The measure from Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D) is one of numerous pieces of cannabis legislation that has advanced through the legislature in recent weeks—and it’s one that advocates feel is long overdue in a state where marijuana has long been legal for medical and recreational use.
After moving through the Assembly a first time in May, the bill went through several Senate committees and was amended before heading back to the originating chamber for concurrence. On Tuesday, AB 2811 received a favorable final sign off in a tally of 41-15.
Earlier versions of the legislation had stalled in the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee in past sessions, but now this latest version has cleared the legislature and will await action from Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) once it is formally transmitted in the coming days.
Quirk’s bill would “make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment, or otherwise penalize a person” solely because of off-duty marijuana use. It would eliminate employment-based THC testing, with exceptions for certain positions, such as federal employees or those working in construction.
The reasoning behind the reform is largely based on the fact that most urine-based drug tests that employers use only test for inactive THC metabolites, which can be present in a person’s system for days or weeks after they’ve consumed cannabis.
Advocates say that existing policy unfairly discriminates against people who use marijuana off-duty, as authorized under state law.
Employers could still maintain drug-free workplaces and penalize workers for workers for coming to work while actively impaired under the proposal.
Other states have carved out cannabis-related employment protections—mostly for medical marijuana patients—but this one extends those workplace safeguards to both medical and adult-use consumers who are acting in compliance with state law.
That said, after New York enacted recreational legalization, the state Department of Labor also instituted new rules stipulating that employers can no longer drug test most workers for marijuana.
Last month, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) also signed a bill that bans most workplaces from firing or otherwise punishing employees for marijuana use.
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This latest action in the California legislature comes days after lawmakers sent bills to the governor that would set up the framework for interstate marijuana commerce, streamline record sealing for cannabis convictions, safeguard firms that provide insurance to businesses in the legal industry and more.
The legislative session ends on Wednesday, and there are still other cannabis reform bills in play.
Here are some other measures that could still be sent to Newsom’s desk this year:
SB 1186: Sen. Scott Wiener’s (D) legislation would “prohibit a local jurisdiction from adopting or enforcing any regulation that prohibits the retail sale by delivery within the local jurisdiction of medicinal cannabis to medicinal cannabis patients or their primary caregivers by medicinal cannabis businesses.”
AB 1885: The bill from Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D) would prohibit regulators from penalizing licensed veterinarians who recommend medical cannabis for animals and revise state law to include definitions for marijuana products intended for animal consumption. The Veterinary Medical Board would also be required to create guidelines for veterinarian cannabis recommendations.
AB 1014: This measure would amend state law to create additional, minimum security and transportation requirements for cannabis delivery services. It’s being sponsored by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D).
Newsom has a long record of supporting marijuana reform and backing the state’s market, so he’s generally expected to sign these measures. But despite his record, he recently vetoed a key piece of drug policy reform legislation from Wiener that would have authorized a safe drug consumption site pilot program in the state—a move that’s prompted widespread criticism from the harm reduction community.
San Francisco officials have since signaled that they’re prepared to defy the governor and launch an overdose prevention program regardless of the veto.
In another disappointment for reform advocates, a separate Wiener bill that would have legalized possession of limited amounts of certain psychedelics was recently pulled by the sponsor after its main provisions were gutted, leaving just a study component that advocates say is unnecessary given the existing body of scientific literature on the subject.
Here’s an overview of other recent drug policy developments in California:
Last month, California officials awarded more than $1.7 million in grants help promote sustainable marijuana cultivation practices and assist growers with obtaining their annual licenses. A total of $6 million will be allotted through the program, which was first announced in August 2021 and will remain open for applications through April 2023.
Regulators also recently announced that they are soliciting input on proposed rules to standardize cannabis testing methods in the state—an effort that they hope will stop marijuana businesses from “laboratory shopping” to find facilities that are more likely to show higher THC concentrations that they can then boast for their products.
Meanwhile, California officials are distributing another round of community reinvestment grants totaling $35.5 million with tax revenue generated from recreational marijuana sales.
The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) announced last month that they’ve awarded 78 grants to organizations throughout the state that will support economic and social development in communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
The amount of funding and number of recipients increased from last year’s levels, when the state awarded about $29 million in grants to 58 nonprofit organizations through the CalCRG program.
California has taken in nearly $4 billion in marijuana tax revenue since the state’s adult-use market launched in 2018, the Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) reported late last month. And for the first quarter of 2022, the state saw about $294 million in cannabis revenue generated from the excise, cultivation and sales tax on marijuana.
The state collected about $817 million in adult-use marijuana tax revenue during the last fiscal year. That represented 55 percent more cannabis earnings for state coffers than was generated in the 2020-2021 period.
California officials also announced in January that the state had awarded $100 million in funding to help develop local marijuana markets, in part by getting cannabis businesses fully licensed.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.