One in five Americans now live in states where recreational marijuana use is legal, and 28 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. However, that doesn’t mean that using pot is without consequences. White House Press Sec. Sean Spicer recently announced that the government will step up enforcement of federal marijuana laws, reversing the Obama administration’s position.
But even during the Obama years, it was still possible to pay a steep price, career-wise, for using a substance that was legal according to state law. Why? Because while using marijuana is legal in many states, employers are largely free to mandate drug testing — and make hiring and firing decisions based on the results.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is hoping to change that. Through its Workplace Drug Testing Coalition, the marijuana advocacy group aims to reform workplace drug testing policies. NORML chapters in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington are spearheading the effort, focusing on legislation and workplace reforms.
“One of the most frequently asked questions we have been getting since Prop. 64 passed legalizing adult marijuana use in California last November is, ‘Am I now protected against drug testing on my job?’” said Ellen Komp, deputy director of California NORML. “Sadly in our state, not even medical marijuana patients are protected against job discrimination, and it’s a priority of Cal NORML to change that. We are hoping to get a bill introduced at the state level and are working with legislators, unions, and other reform groups to make that happen.”
How Can You Be Fired for Something That’s Legal?
“Employment in the United States is at will,” Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, told The Mercury News. “That means employers can hire whoever they want, under any conditions they want, with a few exceptions.”
Federal law protects workers from discrimination based on factors like race, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and age (40 or older). State laws may add other protected classes of workers.
But: “Marijuana is not one of those protected classes,” Winkler said.
The Workplace Drug Testing Coalition will focus on the following:
- Reform workplace drug testing policies
- Expand employment opportunities for marijuana consumers
- Clarify the difference between detection technology and performance testing
- Highlight off-duty state law legal protections for employees
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