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Oakland Is Banning Cannabis Testing for Most City Employees
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Adult-use cannabis has been legal in California since 2018, and medical marijuana for over two decades, but the state has only recently considered rethinking drug testing laws.
Published on November 17, 2021

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Oakland is on track to become one of the first California cities to stop testing its employees for cannabis.

Last week, the Oakland City Council's Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to advance a proposal that would revise the city's cannabis workplace policies. Under the new ordinance, the city would be prevented from conducting “suspicionless” cannabis testing for most current or prospective employees. The proposal would not apply to commercial drivers, who are required to comply with federal drug testing policies, or for firefighters or other union employees whose contracts mandate drug screenings, though.

Given that Oakland was one of the first California cities to create a comprehensive social equity program for cannabis businesses, and the first to decriminalize natural psychedelics, it's a surprise that the city is only now getting around to ending cannabis-related workplace discrimination. Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan proposed this new ordinance to update the city's outdated policies in light of the fact that any adult in the state is legally allowed to smoke as much weed as they want.

“We shouldn’t be weeding out workers for something that is legal,” said Kaplan to The Oaklandside. “Oakland is the reason there is legalization in America. Why on Earth would we take a step in the wrong direction and punish workers for off the job legal conduct?” 

Unlike tests for alcohol and other drugs, standard THC tests cannot actively identify whether a person is stoned at the time of the test. Instead, these tests can only detect “inactive drug residue that can stay for days and weeks after use,” explained Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, to The Oaklandside. “It’s a way of marking a suspect group and disqualifying them for no good reason.” 

Before the proposal can become city law, officials must hash out the fine details with labor unions that represent city employees. And once this is complete, the full City Council must still vote to approve the ordinance. The council has yet to set a date for this hearing, but a majority of council members have already indicated that they will vote to approve it.

“I just want to protect people’s rights,” said City Councilmember Dan Kalb to The Oaklandside. “If they are engaging in legal behavior and have fully recovered from that by the time they’ve come to work, great. That’s all the city needs to know. We don’t need to know how many days ago you did this or that as long as you are not under the influence now.” 

Although California legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and adult-use pot in 2016, state lawmakers are only now considering legislation that would end workplace discrimination against cannabis users. Meanwhile, dozens of other states and cities, including New York, Nevada, Philadelphia, and Washington DC, have already banned pre-employment or random employee drug testing. And earlier this year, Amazon also announced that it would stop testing its own employees for weed, and urged other companies to do the same.

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Chris Moore
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Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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