Nevada Bans Employment Discrimination Against Cannabis Consumers
Along with banning job pre-screening for tokers, the governor also signed a separate bill that prevents authorities from taking kids away from parents who are medical marijuana patients.
Published on June 7, 2019

Nevada just made it harder for employers and state agencies to screw over cannabis consumers.

On Wednesday, Gov. Steve Sisolak signed AB 132, which bars (most) employers from denying jobs to cannabis consumers after drug pre-screenings. Safety-sensitive positions — like cops, fire fighters, doctors, and construction workers — weren’t included in the bill.

Job candidates who can’t pass a drug test for marijuana became problematic after the state legalized weed in 2017. Many folks have assumed that because cannabis is legal, that they can’t get turned away from jobs if they fail a drug screening. But private companies haven’t quite caught up to the pot reform shift, and most still follow strict anti-drug policies for applicants.

Yet even with AB 132’s passage, getting turned down for a new job will continue to plague cannabis users in certain industries.

“It’s still going to be a big problem because there are exclusions for unions,” Madisen Saglibene told MERRY JANE over the phone. Saglibene is the executive director of Nevada NORML and Las Vegas NORML, and she worked with legislators to help get AB 132 passed.

“The unions employ a lot of people in Las Vegas,” she said. “And they definitely are not included in this legislation.”

Related: Vintage Photographs of Celebrities Arrested for Smoking Marijuana

Why did unions get to skate out of the discrimination ban? It’s complicated, but it mainly boils down to insurance policies. Most insurance companies, especially for larger unions and corporations that operate nationwide, are subject to federal law. With marijuana still illegal at the federal level, unions worry they may lose their insurance plans if they hire cannabis users.

One of AB 132’s lead sponsors, Assembly Woman Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas), fought an uphill battle to get the bill to become law. Initially, there was a lot of confusion surrounding the bill’s details, such as some opponents assuming the bill would let employees get stoned on the clock.

“There is nothing in AB 132 that prevents an employer from having a policy prohibiting the possession or use of marijuana at the workplace,” Neal said during a hearing for the bill in February. “The bill does not get into violating the [federal] supremacy clause or get into the business of usurping federal law and preventing rights of federal employees.”

Another contentious issue: What constitutes a safety-sensitive position?

One of Neal’s fellow Democrats initially worried that the term “safety sensitive” was too broad, and employers could abuse the draft bill’s vagueness to discriminate against cannabis consumers.

“Some employers would use that and declare everyone they employed is in a safety-sensitive position because they all have access to the cash register or some sharp instrument,” Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) said during the February hearing.

To resolve the issue, lawmakers amended the bill to specify what constitutes “safety sensitive.” That included emergency medical professionals, fire fighters, motor vehicle drivers, and other positions where someone being intoxicated could put others’ safety at risk.

Barring discrimination didn’t stop at the workplace, either. AB 140 set new rules for child custody cases and adoption applications where state agencies cannot deny applicants because they are medical marijuana patients. Previously, state agencies could cite a parent’s medical marijuana use as evidence that she or he is unfit to care for a child.

Other pro-cannabis bills recently signed by the governor included one to restore voting rights to convicted felons, another to expunge criminal records for low-level pot offenses, and another to create an experimental banking system for Nevada’s cannabis industry.

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Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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