Illinois Lawmakers Say You Can't Get Fired for Using Cannabis
The law would protect employees who test positive for marijuana use.
State lawmakers in the Illinois House of Representatives have passed a bill that would address a growing issue in legal cannabis: protecting workers who use marijuana from getting fired for having THC in their system.
While cannabis is now legal for recreational use in 18 states and for medical use in 37, employers still have the right in most places to use the results of a drug test to fire a worker or refuse to hire a job applicant.
Some states are taking action. Philadelphia recently passed a law that prevents employers from using a marijuana drug test as a pre-condition for employment. And lawmakers in Illinois, where both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are legal, have been working since last year to address the issue statewide.
Drug testing is a key issue for cannabis entrepreneurs and consumers. Concerns about losing their job keep people from using cannabis, even if it's prescribed by a doctor. And in places where recreational use is legal, many who fear losing their job won't buy cannabis for use on the weekend or after hours.
An issue of fairness
The Illinois House passed the legislation by a 61-41 vote, mostly along party lines. State Rep. Bob Morgan, a Democrat and chief sponsor of the bill, said the law would allow people to use a legal product on their own time “and not fear losing their job,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Many see it as an issue of fairness. An employee can drink alcohol on weeknights or weekends without fear of reprisal. But even in states where cannabis is legal, it’s challenging to do the same with marijuana if employees fear a drug test on Monday morning. That’s because tests can detect THC, the chemical ingredient in cannabis that causes the high, in the bloodstream or urine for many days.
The Illinois proposal prevents employers from firing or refusing to hire someone after a drug test detects THC in their system, as long as the person does not appear intoxicated and does not test higher than the threshold for driving under the influence. Currently in Illinois, that threshold is five nanograms per milliliter of blood or 10 nanograms per milliliter of saliva or urine.
While the law seems logical, the issue is more complicated for business owners and law enforcement.
A complex issue in Illinois
Both the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association and Illinois Manufacturers’ Association initially opposed the bill before lawmakers made changes. They have since dropped opposition, remaining neutral. The changes include allowing companies to take action on marijuana use for certain employees.
For example, employers can still have zero-tolerance policies for workers in public safety positions such as law enforcement and firefighters. Employers also can take action against federal workers or contractors because federal law prohibits the use of cannabis.
Other workers whose employers can still take action against marijuana use include those who:
- Carry a firearm
- Perform medical procedures or emergency services
- Work with hazardous or flammable materials or drugs
- Work with heavy machinery, aircraft, watercraft, or motorized vehicles
- Perform critical services and work with critical infrastructure.
Business leaders also fear that the proposals will lead to a flurry of legal action over who is and who is not exempt from the law, among other issues.
A similar measure in Colorado already has stalled this year, with business owners testifying before lawmakers that they have the right to run their businesses as they see fit. They also voiced concerns about workplace safety.