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New Washington Law Prohibits Employers from Discriminating Against Job Applicants Based on Legal Cannabis Use

In a significant move for employment rights, Washington state has enacted Senate Bill 5123, which prohibits discrimination based on off-duty cannabis use for job applicants. 

The legislation, signed into law by Democratic Governor Jay Inslee in May 2023, became effective on January 1, 2024.

New Employment Protection for Cannabis Users

Under the new law, employers are forbidden from taking adverse actions against newly hired workers for using cannabis outside the workplace, even if they fail a pre-employment drug screening for non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites. 

Exceptions to this rule include safety-sensitive positions, law enforcement officers, firefighters, first responders, certain industries like aviation and aerospace, and jobs requiring federal background checks or security clearances.

Pre-employment drug screenings for cannabis will still be permitted for certain safety-sensitive roles. However, the law does not impact existing workplace policies that mandate drug tests for cannabis use among current employees.

Democratic Senator Karen Keiser, the bill’s sponsor, emphasized that the legislation focuses on the hiring process and does not restrict employers from conducting post-hiring drug tests. She explained, “If your employer wants to test you every week after you’re hired, they’re still able to do that.”

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Washington State Employment Law

In a significant move for employment rights, Washington state has enacted Senate Bill 5123, which prohibits discrimination based on off-duty cannabis use for job applicants.

Supporters argue that traditional drug screenings for cannabis do not measure impairment and can result in positive tests weeks after consumption. Burl Bryson, the executive director of The Cannabis Alliance, stressed that basing employment decisions on such unreliable outcomes is outdated. 

Advocates assert that workplace policies should evolve in response to changing marijuana laws across the nation.

Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), emphasized the need for workplace policies to align with evolving attitudes towards cannabis use. 

He pointed out that workers who legally and responsibly consume alcohol off-duty do not face sanctions unless their job performance is affected. Armentano argued that individuals who legally consume cannabis should be held to a similar standard.

This development in Washington reflects a broader trend, with other states such as California, Nevada, and Michigan implementing similar protections for workers who use cannabis while off the job. 

As cannabis legalization continues to progress, employment laws are adapting to ensure fair treatment for individuals engaging in legal activities during their non-working hours.

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