Medical marijuana became legal in New York back in 2014, and efforts are currently underway to make recreational cannabis legal in the state as well. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed strong support for the legislation. 

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“Let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all,” said Cuomo in a speech last December.

The issue at hand is cannabis may be legal in your state, but employers are still allowed to conduct mandatory drug testing that includes testing for marijuana use. Even medical patients with legitimate qualifying conditions face legal discrimination in the workplace.

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New York may be the first state to attempt to shift that paradigm. Lawmakers in New York City have just filed legislation that would prohibit prospective employee drug testing for cannabis. A recent tweet by NYC Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, one of the bill’s sponsors and main proponents, stated,

“We need to be creating more access points for employment, not less. As we move towards legalization, it makes no sense that we’re keeping people from finding jobs or advancing their careers because of marijuana use.”

Jobs newspaper iStock / artisteer

The wording of the proposed legislation is fairly explicit. The bill calls mandatory cannabis drug testing “an unlawful discriminatory practice…except as otherwise provided by law.”

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The proposed law would effectively ban employers in New York City “from requiring a prospective employee to submit to testing for the presence of any tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the [psycho]active ingredient in marijuana…as a condition of employment. Exceptions are provided for safety and security sensitive jobs, and those tied to a federal or state contract or grant.”

Cannabis metabolites found by drug testing don’t actually reflect whether an employee is under the influence of marijuana at the time of testing. Body size, metabolism, and amount of use, of course, are all factors impacting whether someone will test positive for marijuana. Depending on the person, it can take up to a few months after the last time someone consumed cannabis for them to test negative. According to an interview with NY Daily News, said Williams,

“If you ingest weed in whatever manner a month ago, I’m not sure how that prevents you from doing your job now.”

Not all jobs would be equally affected by the legislation, and depending on the work involved, some employers may still be allowed to conduct marijuana drug testing; for example, jobs involving the operation of heavy machinery, positions in law enforcement, and those employed as emergency responders may still be required to undergo cannabis drug testing.

This could be especially important for those residents of New York City who are currently on probation. The Council’s Public Safety Committee has also announced plans to introduce legislation to prohibit drug testing for cannabis for those on probation. Said the council’s chairman, Councilman Donavan Richards, “While we’re working to decrease the population on Rikers, we should be finding reasons to keep people out of the system, not more hurdles to trip them up and send them back.”

The full bill can be found here.