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Lawmakers in Illinois Wants to Protect Workers Who Use Weed During Their Off Hours

You can drink alcohol when you're not at work. A new law in Illinois is trying to make it safe to use cannabis, too.

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A proposed new law in Illinois seeks to block employers from firing or refusing to hire people who test positive for low-level marijuana use. It’s another attempt by lawmakers at the state level to clear up what remains a blurry picture nationwide on how employers treat workers who smoke weed.

Some companies have taken matters into their own hands. Years ago, AutoNation became one of the first to set a new standard by announcing it would not test employees for cannabis use. Others have followed suit. Even sports leagues have eased up on punishing players who test positive for cannabis use

Still, there’s plenty of uncertainty for employees. After all, the president himself fired employees for marijuana use at the beginning of 2021. 

Put it all together, and we still live in a world where a person can drink as much alcohol as they want on Sunday and have no concerns about losing their job Monday. But a person who took a few hits from a joint could end up getting fired weeks later.

Related: Amazon Will Stop Testing Employees for Weed

 

There’s no reliable test for intoxication from cannabis.

Not even the staunchest marijuana advocate is arguing that people should be on the job under the influence of marijuana. But the problem is, testing for cannabis use is not like testing for alcohol. There’s no proven test that shows someone is currently impaired from marijuana use.

While researchers are looking into creating such a test, right now employers must rely on drug tests that can detect THC from cannabis in the bloodstream or urine days, even weeks, after someone used it. 

That’s what happened to Andre Burson, who the Chicago Tribune interviewed as part of an article on the proposed new law. Burson successfully worked for years as an electrical substation operator for ComEd, the utility company in Chicago. 

He said he only used marijuana during off-hours, never at work. However, when he failed a marijuana drug test, the rules required him to pass more tests for months afterward. When one of those tests came back positive for marijuana, he then was told he must give a urine sample while someone watched him. He refused to do so. The utility fired him, he told the Tribune.

Burson said, “It was devastating. It still is. My job was my life. I talked to lawyers, but nobody wants to touch it.”

Related: Everything's Coming Up Green In Illinois

 

A state lawmaker in Illinois comes up with a possible solution.

These types of stories are happening on a daily basis around the country. The federal government offers no help as cannabis is still considered an illegal Schedule I drug. So, local and state officials have taken the lead, working on the issue from different angles. 

For example, starting in 2022, employers in Philadelphia cannot make passage of a marijuana drug test a precondition for employment. Amazon also has announced it will not pre-screen employees for marijuana use for some jobs.

In Illinois, state Rep. Bob Morgan has proposed a new law that prohibits companies from firing workers in Illinois solely on the basis of getting a positive result for low levels of marijuana on a drug test. Morgan told the Tribune that his intent is to “categorize cannabis use on personal time the same way we treat any other substance so long as you’re not impaired in the workplace.”

Under Morgan’s proposal, the “low level” would equal anything below what state law considers impaired in its driving under the influence law. Currently, the state sets that limit at a minimum of five nanograms per milliliter of blood or 10 nanograms per milliliter of urine, saliva or other bodily fluid.

Attorney Brittany Robinson, who was rejected for an assistant public defender job over marijuana use, told the Tribune the current law is “archaic.”

“It doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “Society has caught up to the reality of smoking marijuana on your own time and people don’t care. But our laws unfortunately haven’t caught up to that. We need laws and policies that stop putting people out of a job for petty reasons.”

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