The District of Columbia has effectively banned city agencies from terminating or reprimanding its 30,000 workers for simply smoking weed.
On Tuesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an order that bans city agencies from crafting their own marijuana policies. Instead, they must all follow the mayor’s rule, which protects cannabis consumers from unwarranted pre-employment drug screens for cannabis. Furthermore, current city employees cannot lose their jobs for testing positive, either, though there are some strings attached.
One of those strings has become a standard in weed-legal jurisdictions: Employees in “safety sensitive” positions — those working jobs like construction, policing, or healthcare — can still undergo pre-employment and random drug screens. Additionally, all city employees can still be required to take a drug test if they’re hurt on the job or if their supervisors suspect that they’re coming to work stoned. Other DC agencies, like the district’s Department of Corrections, bans all cannabis use among its employees, regardless of whether they’re marijuana patients or not.
“It’s really a recognition that, as we make cannabis use policies for the District of Columbia and its residents more equitable and fair and just and safe, we want our human resources policy to be reflective of those values,” Jay Melber, DC’s assistant city administrator, told DCist.
And, of course, federal employees working or living in DC are not covered by the mayor’s new protections, since marijuana remains outlawed at the federal level. DC’s residents voted to legalize weed in 2014, but since the district is subject to the US Congress’s overview, rolling-out legalization has not gone as smoothly in the capital as it has elsewhere in the country. There is still no regulated system for legal sales and cultivation in DC.
Gallery — Some Seriously Extra Cannabis Extracts:
The real issue, however, isn’t whether people can be fired for smoking recreational weed. Drug screenings are especially discriminatory against medical marijuana patients, who only find relief or even treatment of their conditions through cannabis.
David Grosso, an at-large DC city councilmember, applauded the mayor’s order, but feared that it did not go far enough to protect medical marijuana patients. Grosso has proposed legislation to regulate legal weed sales and to ensure greater workplace protections for DC’s patients. “...I have concerns over how it will play out practically,” he wrote to DCist in an email. “The order continues to place a burden on employees using medical marijuana that simply does not exist for other, potentially more harmful, treatments.”
Grosso’s concern has to do with the nature of drug testing for cannabis. Since cannabis’s primary intoxicating compound, THC, is stored in a person’s fat cells, they can test positive for marijuana for weeks, if not months, after last consuming it. These tests cannot confirm current or recent impairment, only whether someone had consumed cannabis within the last several days or weeks. And for marijuana patients, who typically consume cannabis every day, that means they’ll always test positive for weed, even if they only smoke at home while off-the-clock.
To address the drug screening issue for patients, the DC legislature approved Act Number A23-0114 earlier this month. The act, titled “The Medical Marijuana Program Patient Employment Protection Temporary Amendment Act,” would create additional protections for DC’s cannabis patients against unfair employment practices, such as denying someone a promotion or employment simply for being a patient.
Unfortunately, like all of DC’s legislation, Act A23-0114 is subject to the US Congress’s overview, and so far, Congress has not been friendly to the district’s attempts to normalize and regulate legal weed.
Last year, Mayor Bowser directed DC’s police departments to stop arresting people who are caught smoking weed in public. Instead, tokers caught blazing anywhere but their own homes will catch a $25 fine.
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