Laws Look to Keep Workers from Getting Smoked After Work

As attitudes toward marijuana change, states are introducing laws to address the rights of employees.

We’ve come a long way from “Reefer Madness.”

The 1936 propaganda flick about the alleged dangers of marijuana tells the strange story of some hapless young people who get sucked into a maelstrom of murder, suicide and extreme kookiness as they succumb to their desperate need for weed.

The film, which critic Leonard Maltin dubbed “the granddaddy of all ‘Worst’ movies,” went on to have a second life as an unintentional comedy on the midnight movie circuit as more people lightened up about lighting up.

Recent Gallup polling found for that, the first time, more Americans said they smoked marijuana than those who reported smoking cigarettes.

‘Filling in The Gaps’

Sixty-eight percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal, which tied for the record high — you should pardon the expression.

And, as attitudes change, so are the laws in several states.

On Aug. 30, California lawmakers passed a bill protecting workers who use marijuana off the job. 

Robert Mikos, law professor at Vanderbilt University, said that many of the first states that passed marijuana reform bills did not address several issues, including employment.

“So what California is doing, and what some other states have already done, is they’re going back and filling in some of the gaps of their original reforms and trying to address these other issues,” he said. “They’re just trying to put marijuana users on the same footing as people who consume alcohol or tobacco or engage in other lawful activities outside the job.”

The bill would prevent workers from being punished for failing THC tests, with exceptions for certain positions, such as federal employees or those working in construction. 

‘Getting Real About It’

The tests look for metabolites, a substance that the body makes when it breaks down THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana.

“Depending upon the test, you might actually find evidence of use of the drug from weeks ago because some of the metabolites found in marijuana would stay in your blood stream for a long period of time,” Mikos said. 

He added that many companies adopted a “zero tolerance” approach and tested for marijuana even after states legalized it.

“They’ve stopped testing for metabolite, so they stopped firing people or refusing to hire them simply because they’ve used the drug,” Mikos said. “Companies are more tolerant of it and aware of the economic realities that you can’t exclude such a large portion of the labor force. They’re getting real about it.”

Employers would still be allowed to use performance testing or other methods that the bill’s supporters say do a better job of detecting recent marijuana use.

The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has until the end of September to decide whether to sign it into law.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws applauded the move.

‘Discriminatory Practice’

“Random marijuana testing in the workplace, such as pre-employment drug screening, has never been an evidence-based policy,” the group said in a statement. “Rather, this discriminatory practice is a holdover from the zeitgeist of the 1980s ‘war on drugs.’ But times have changed; attitudes have changed, and in many places, the marijuana laws have changed.”

“It is time for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality and to cease punishing employees for activities they engage in during their off-hours that pose no workplace safety threat,” NORML said.

As far as the bill’s future, “we are confident that the Governor will sign this bill into law,” a NORML spokesperson said 

Six other states — Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Montana and Rhode Island — have laws providing some level of workplace protection for adults who consume cannabis while away from work. 

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia permit cannabis use by adults, while 36 states and D.C. have enacted medical legalization. 

Social media reaction to the bill was varied, with supporters tweeting brief comments such as “Finally” and “Nice.” 

“You should absolutely be able to smoke AFTER work,” one person tweeted. “Not DURING or BEFORE (unless your employer is fine with that).”

“So you can’t fire a burned out, unproductive employee,” another person stated

“So we ban guns and protect employees who use drugs,” another post read. “Why can’t we protect employees who don’t want to be vaxed or boostered as long as we are protecting them.”

“Why does anyone care about the use of cannabis; and if they do, please enter the 21st MF’n century,” another person declared. “Let the people smoke!”

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