Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has signed legislation (Senate Bill 5123) into law prohibiting employers from taking adverse actions against new hires because of a failed drug test for marijuana.
The new law, which takes effect on January 1, 2024, states, “It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person in the initial hiring for employment if the discrimination is based upon: (a) The person’s use of cannabis off the job and away from the workplace; or (b) An employer-required drug screening test that has found the person to have non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites in their hair, blood, urine, or other bodily fluids.”
The law does not impact workplace policies that require current employees to undergo testing for off-the-job cannabis use, or that punish those who test positive. It also provides exceptions for certain safety-sensitive employers.
Washington joins a growing number of jurisdictions — including Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and the District of Columbia — that have passed legislation limit employers’ ability to pre-screen applicants for past marijuana use. Nevada enacted a similar law in 2019.
Several other states — including California, Connecticut, Montana, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island — have enacted broader workplace protections limiting employers ability to either test for or to sanction employees for their use of cannabis while off the job.
NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano emphasized that workplace drug testing policies must evolve to reflect the changing state-legal status of cannabis. “Urine screening for off-the-job cannabis consumption has never been an evidence-based policy,” he said. “Rather, this discriminatory practice is a holdover from the zeitgeist of the 1980s ‘war on drugs. But times have changed; attitudes have changed, and in many places, the marijuana laws have changed. It is time for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality and to cease punishing employees for activities they engage in during their off-hours that pose no workplace safety threat.”
Armentano added: “Those who consume alcohol legally and responsibly while away from their jobs do not suffer sanctions from their employers unless their work performance is adversely impacted. Those who legally consume cannabis should be held to a similar standard.”
Numerous studies indicate that employees who consume cannabis during their off hours perform no differently than their non-using peers. Specifically, they do not pose an increased safety risk. According to an exhaustive review by the US National Academy of Sciences, “There is no evidence to support a statistical association between cannabis use and occupational accidents or injuries.”
Additional information is available from NORML’s fact sheet, ‘Marijuana Legalization and Impact on the Workplace.’