Lawmakers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) have approved a bill to end pre-employment marijuana testing for most government jobs.
About five years after the U.S. territory legalized cannabis—the first time the reform was enacted in a U.S. jurisdiction through an act of lawmakers rather than by a ballot initiative—the CNMI House of Representatives passed the employment protections legislation from Rep. Diego Vincent Camacho (D) in a 17-1 vote on Friday. It now heads to the Senate for consideration during a special session.
Under the measure, government agencies could no longer subject most applicants to drug testing for THC, though they could continue to conduct random or suspicion-basted marijuana testing for active employees.
Any jobs that involve federal contracts or safety sensitive work like transportation or use of firearms would be exempt from policy change. The CNMI Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would be able to determine which jobs are considered safety sensitive.
“The Legislature intended to regulate the use of marijuana similar to the use of alcohol. This approach should include the use of alcohol and marijuana at the workplace,” the bill’s findings section says. “Government employers do not prohibit employees or applicants from engaging in off-duty legalized alcohol use. Such employers should do the same with marijuana use.”
It also points to examples of states and localities like New York and Washington, D.C. that have similarly moved to eliminate pre-employment cannabis testing following legalization.
“Really the intent of this legislation is for the initial drug testing,” Camacho said, according to Saipan Tribune. “Anything after that is on the employee or the employer.”
“It’s already here. I think that people are smart enough to understand that when you do accept the job, there are policies to follow,” he said.
Rep. Roman Benavente (I) said that he supported the legislation because it’s legal to use, but also because of “the health benefits—there are some health benefits behind it that really help in the community.”
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CNMI might have been the first U.S. territory to legalize cannabis, but it wasn’t the last.
One year after CNMI’s reform, Guam moved to end marijuana prohibition. And this year, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) enacted cannabis legalization.
In 2021, federal courts representing CNMI and Guam hosted a seminar on marijuana legalization and its potential impact on the tourism industry.
With respect to cannabis and employment policies, there have been numerous developments in states across the U.S. as the legalization movement has continued to expand.
Last month, for example, Michigan officials approved changes to the state’s employment policy, making it so applicants for most government jobs will no longer be subject to pre-employment drug testing for marijuana.
A California Assembly committee approved a Senate-passed bill last month that would prohibit employers from asking job applicants about prior marijuana use.
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.
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
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