California Employers Could Not Ask About Past Marijuana Use Under Bill Sent To Governor’s Desk

California lawmakers have sent the governor a bill that would prohibit employers from asking job applicants about prior marijuana use.

One day after the Assembly passed an amended version of the Senate bill, the originating chamber on Thursday signed off on those changes in a vote of 30-8. It now heads to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).

When employers ask applicants about past marijuana use, it “not only dissuades candidates from applying for these positions but also leads to situations in which individuals respond dishonestly to get the job,” Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D) said during on the floor of his chamber earlier this week.

The bill would build on existing employment protections enacted last session that bar employers from penalizing most workers for using cannabis in compliance with state law off the job.

With certain exceptions, “it is unlawful for an employer to request information from an applicant for employment relating to the applicant’s prior use of cannabis,” the bill text says.

Current law as enacted last year says that it is unlawful for employers “to discriminate against a person in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment, or otherwise penalizing a person, if the discrimination is based upon” off-duty marijuana use or drug tests that reveal cannabinoid metabolites.

There are exceptions to the policy for workers “in the building and construction trades,” as well as those that require federal background checks and security clearances.

If the measure is ultimately enacted, it would take effect January 1, 2024. That’s also the effective date of the earlier cannabis employment protections legislation that Newsom signed last year.


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Cannabis-related employment policies have been a major topic across the country amid the marijuana legalization movement.

For example, Michigan officials have proposed ending pre-employment drug testing for marijuana for most government job applicants, while also giving people who’ve already been penalized over positive THC tests an opportunity to have the sanction retroactively rescinded.

In May, the governor of Washington State signed a bill into law that will protect workers  from facing employment discrimination during the hiring process over their lawful use of marijuana.

That means Washington has joined Nevada in prohibiting discrimination against job applicants for testing positive for marijuana. New York also provides broader employment protections for adults who legally use cannabis during off-hours and away from work.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) have finalized a rule to amend its drug testing policy in a way that could have significant implications for truckers, commercial drivers, pilots and other federally regulated transit workers who use marijuana off the job.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has updated its employment policy to make it so applicants who’ve grown, manufactured or sold marijuana in compliance with state laws while serving in a “position of public responsibility” will no longer be automatically disqualified—whereas those who did so in violation of state cannabis policies won’t be considered.

The Secret Service also recently relaxed restrictions on prior marijuana use by prospective agents.

Late last year, draft documents obtained by Marijuana Moment showed that the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was proposing to replace a series of job application forms for prospective workers in a way that would treat past cannabis use much more leniently than under current policy.

The Biden administration instituted a policy in 2021 authorizing waivers to be granted to certain workers who admit to prior marijuana use, but certain lawmakers have pushed for additional reform.

Certain federal employers could not test most job applicants for marijuana under a series of recent amendments being proposed for large-scale congressional spending bills.

Back in California, another cannabis bill is heading to the governor following a final Assembly vote on Monday. The measure would legalize marijuana cafes, allowing dispensaries to offer non-cannabis food and drinks at their location if they receive local approval.

Also, the legislature sent a bill to the governor last week that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of certain psychedelics by adults. It would create work group to explore a possible regulatory model for access to the substances for therapeutic and facilitated use.

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Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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