California May Ban Most Employers From Drug Testing People Upon Employment
Hair and urine drug tests make about as much sense, one advocate says, as finding alcohol bottles in someone’s garbage and concluding that they’re drunk.
Published on March 3, 2021

A California lawmaker is on a mission to restrict types of testing that puts cannabis users’ employment unnecessarily at risk. Assemblyperson Bill Quirk has introduced Assembly Bill 1256 to ban most employers from using hair and urine tests as justification for refusing a job to someone, or firing them. 

The proposed law would also let previously discriminated against employees seek legal action against previous drug-testing employers. 

There are many problems with drug testing. One of the main issues is that hair and urine tests are generally designed to identify people who use cannabis, as THC stays in the body for months longer than other substances, such as MDMA, methamphetamine, LSD, and opioids.

Further, cannabis hair and urine tests are notoriously inaccurate. In most cases, they’re unable to differentiate between individuals who are hopelessly stoned while taking the test and people who last puffed two or three months ago. 

Blood tests are a far more accurate testing method for determining current inebriation, and would not be banned by the proposed legislation. 

Right now, California employers are not permitted to randomly drug test employees, but they are allowed to require drug testing of new hires — even with no suspicion that said individual consumes cannabis.

“You can’t judge a worker by their urine,” said Dale Gieringer, California NORML’s director, before leading into a stellar pun. “If you do that, you’re going to have a piss-poor workforce.”

To further explain, he offered the metaphor of looking in a person’s trash can for alcohol bottles to find out if they are currently drunk. 

“Urine tests are like going through employees’ trash every week and looking around for empty beer cans or liquor bottles,” Gieringer said. “And if you find some, the person must’ve been drunk on the job,”

The point is that such proof, just like marijuana discovered by hair or urine tests, is no indicator of an individual’s current capabilities or state of inebriation. 

“You’re allowed to do anything else legal off the job,” Gieringer continued. “You can drink, smoke and fire guns, and stuff like that, as long as it’s off the job.” 

Not all jobs would be protected by the initiative, however. Some employers are required by federal regulation to drug test for cannabis. Building and construction jobs would also be exempted, as would employers that would lose “monetary or licensing-related benefit” if they decided to cease drug testing. 

Gieringer said that he thinks the bill will take two years to pass the state legislature. 

In February, California Assemblyperson Rob Bonta introduced a bill that would ban employers from discriminating against individuals who use medicinal marijuana. That law would not apply to certain vocations like airplane pilots, police, truck drivers, and employees under federal contracts. 

Even five years after California voters passed Proposition 64, which legalized adult use of cannabis, not everyone is convinced that such protections for people who use cannabis are a good idea. 

“Allowing drug use in the workplace — including requiring an employer to accommodate an employee’s marijuana use — could jeopardize the safety of other workers as well as the public,” the California Chamber of Commerce stated in a February statement.

Bonta noted to the Los Angeles Times that 16 other states have such protections already on the books. 

If you find yourself facing an employer’s cannabis test anywhere for any reason, don’t forget that we’ve got you covered with the 2020 edition of our “How To Take a Drug Test Guide.” 

Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
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