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People Who Use Marijuana Can Lose Their Jobs, But Some States Want To Change That

From Louisiana to Washington DC, lawmakers are revising drug-testing rules in the workplace.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Getting fired for doing something legal has finally started to motivate local politicians to take action to protect workers. Fed up with workers being let go for using marijuana in legal states, some state governments have begun to work on legislation to protect them. So far the legislative movement is on a local level, as it's still unclear when Congress will pass any changes in the current federal laws that prohibit cannabis possession or use.

Dmytro Tyshchenko | Shutterstock

Leaders in both Louisiana and Washington DC recently proposed laws that would keep companies in their jurisdiction from firing someone for failing a drug test. In doing so, they are following in the footsteps of Philadelphia, where officials in 2021 banned cannabis drug tests from pre-employment drug screenings. New York City, Atlanta, Maine, and Nevada have similar laws.

RELATED: Legalized Cannabis Has Changed the American Workplace

Why employees need protection

Outside of jobs where they have to operate vehicles or heavy machinery, it's difficult for many to understand how testing positive for using legally purchased marijuana could cost a person their job. But it's already happened because most places do not offer workers protection in this area.

That's starting to change. One of the main reasons is the unreliability of cannabis tests. THC, the psychoactive element in cannabis, stays detectable in blood or urine days - sometimes weeks - after cannabis use. Without protection, someone who used legal recreational cannabis over the weekend could lose their job the following week. Needless to say, that's long after the person stopped feeling high.

That's why many argue that cannabis drug testing is bad for business because it may prevent a company from hiring and retaining talented employees.

Related: Why Company Drug-Test Policies Matter More Than Ever

Medical marijuana users impacted by drug-testing

Cannabis drug tests in the workplace also potentially impact thousands of people who use medical marijuana. For example, in Louisiana, one of the states considering a law to protect employees, more than 43,000 have already signed up for the state's medical-marijuana program that started in 2019.

Rep. Mandie Landry, a Democrat from New Orleans who proposed a law banning cannabis tests for state workers, said the current situation is bad for people who want to stop using opioids to manage pain. Studies have found that cannabis is an effective pain management tool in many cases.

"There are a lot of people who don't want to take opioids for their long-term PTSD and pain management because of the high possibility of addiction to opioids," Landry said. "This has proved to be a better option than them."

But many shy away from using cannabis out of fear of losing their job.

RELATED: Will Marijuana Use Affect Your Chances of Getting Hired?

A limited approach

In Washington DC, the city council took an approach that seems to consider all the current research into cannabis as well as the shortcomings of cannabis testing. The proposal, passed unanimously, stops employers from firing employees who fail marijuana drug tests. It also prohibits employers from refusing to hire someone because of recreational or medical marijuana use.

The bill provides exceptions. For example, the law does not protect employees who use cannabis at work or while performing work-related duties. It also doesn't apply to employers who must work under federal guidelines. The law also prohibits having cannabis at the workplace.

But the bill does not cover "safety-sensitive" occupations such as construction workers, police, security guards, heavy machinery operators, healthcare workers, caretakers, or gas and power company employees, according to NPR.

The Louisiana law takes the same approach, but it applies only to state workers who have a prescription for medical marijuana from their doctor. The proposal does not apply to police, firefighters, or other public safety workers.

Some lawmakers in New Jersey want to take a different approach. Recent proposals from lawmakers in the Garden State allow employers to test workers for cannabis if they operate heavy machinery, use weapons or hold a job where using cannabis would "put the public at risk." Those occupations include operating tractors, dump trucks, excavators and bulldozers.

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