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California Bill Would Roll Back Marijuana Employment Protections For Law Enforcement Jobs

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A California bill that was introduced last month as a minor technical fix to an existing law protecting workers from employment discrimination over legal marijuana use was substantially amended in committee this week with new section that would roll back the protections for various categories of workers, including those in law enforcement, coroners’ offices and animal control.

Under two pieces of legislation signed into law in 2022 and 2023, California employers are now prohibited from asking job applicants about past cannabis use, and most are barred from penalizing employees over lawful use of marijuana outside of the job.

The newly amended bill, SB 1264, sponsored by Sen. Shannon Grove (R), would remove those protections for “employees in sworn or nonsworn positions within law enforcement agencies who have or would have functions or activities” related to:

(1) The apprehension, incarceration, or correction of criminal offenders.(2) Civil enforcement matters.(3) Dispatch and other public safety communications.(4) Evidence gathering and processing.(5) Law enforcement records.(6) Animal control.(7) Community services duties.(8) Public administrator or public guardian duties.(9) Coroner functions.

The proposed change comes just months after the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training removed questions about marijuana from police job application forms. Several forms, the commission said at the time, were “modified to remove inquiries about a candidate’s prior cannabis use.”

Grove’s amendments were adopted on Tuesday, and the legislation currently sits before the Senate Rules Committee.

Both employment protections laws took effect on January 1 of this year. With certain exceptions, “it is unlawful for an employer to request information from an applicant for employment relating to the applicant’s prior use of cannabis,” one of them says.

The separate complementary legislation that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed in 2022 says it is unlawful for employers “to discriminate against a person in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment, or otherwise penalizing a person, if the discrimination is based upon” off-duty marijuana use or drug tests that reveal cannabinoid metabolites.

The laws already contain exceptions to the policy for workers “in the building and construction trades,” as well as those that require federal background checks and security clearances. The new amendment would extend the exceptions to include various law enforcement functions.

Cannabis-related employment policies have been a major topic across the country amid the marijuana legalization movement.

As marijuana legalization began to take effect in Ohio last year, for example, Cleveland Mayor Justin M. Bibb (D) announced that the city has “modernized” its drug testing policies for applicants for city jobs, eliminating “antiquated language around pre-employment marijuana testing that has previously hindered hiring efforts.”

A Washington, D.C. law went into effect in July that bans most private workplaces from firing or otherwise punishing employees for marijuana use during non-work hours.

Michigan officials approved changes to the state’s employment policy over the summer, making it so applicants for most government jobs will no longer be subject to pre-employment drug testing for marijuana.

New York also provides broader employment protections for adults who legally use cannabis during off-hours and away from work.

Meanwhile in California, a poll released last month by state regulators found that 62 percent of adults in the state believe the legalization law is having a “positive” impact—an even greater percentage than actually voted to enact the reform through the ballot in 2016.

The poll also showed that 86 percent of adults consider it important to shop for marijuana at legal retailers as opposed to in the unregulated market, a key objective for officials as the state works to combat illicit sales.

Another 72 percent of respondents said that consumers hold some responsibility to seek out licensed cannabis shops for their products.

But because individual jurisdictions are able to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses, that’s not always simple. And the poll also found that 85 percent of people who live in an opt-out area either mistakenly believed retailers were permitted or were unfamiliar with their local laws.

The poll was released one week after California regulators at the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) rolled out a new marijuana database that’s meant to help consumers, stakeholders and lawmakers better understand industry trends—including monthly sales data and information about cannabis licensees.

DCC separately released another online tool in 2022 that allows people to view an interactive map showing where marijuana businesses are permitted—and where they are blocked from opening—throughout the state.

Meanwhile, Newsom has pledged to continue working to “strengthen” the state’s marijuana market. In January he proposed to help close an overall government budgetary deficit by borrowing $100 million from a cannabis tax fund designated for law enforcement and other public safety initiatives.

The California legislature is also looking at ways to build on the state’s cannabis market, while exploring other drug policy reforms dealing with issues such as psychedelics.

Assemblymember Matt Haney (D) is renewing his push to legalize cannabis cafes in the state, with a recently introduced bill and plans to work with the governor and regulators to address concerns that resulted in the last version being vetoed.

Also, bipartisan California lawmakers recently introduced a new bill to legalize psychedelic service centers where adults 21 and older could access psilocybin, MDMA, mescaline and DMT in a supervised environment with trained facilitators.

The Republican Assembly sponsor of that legislation is also behind a separate psychedelics bill focused on promoting research and creating a framework for the possibility of regulated therapeutic access that has already moved through the Assembly this year with unanimous support.



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