WA Senate passes bill to bar hiring discrimination for cannabis use

The Seattle Times reports

OLYMPIA — Washington employers would be prohibited from refusing to hire a potential worker solely because of a drug test showing they had used cannabis under a bill that passed the state Senate on Wednesday.

Washington voters approved recreational marijuana in 2012 through Initiative 502. More than a decade later, though, as more states have moved to legalize the drug, Washington employers can still screen out applicants who use cannabis.

If Senate Bill 5123 becomes law, Washington would join several other states that have enacted laws shielding employees from workplace penalties for off-duty cannabis use. The bill passed the state Senate on a 28-21 vote Wednesday, sending it to the House for further consideration.

In 2019, Nevada became the first state to stop employers from rejecting an applicant because of a drug test showing cannabis use. Last year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill barring discrimination in hiring, firing and other conditions of employment if a worker uses cannabis while off duty.

The Washington bill’s sponsor, Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, introduced a similar proposal last year, but it didn’t get to the floor for a vote.

Washington’s bill only covers drug tests before hiring, Keiser said. An employer could still test you for cannabis once you have a job, and could still make a hiring decision based on a drug test that doesn’t include cannabis.

If your employer wants to test you every week after you’re hired, they’re still able to do that,” Keiser said. “This is simply opening the front door of getting into a job. Because too many people who see that they have to take a drug test to even apply, don’t even apply.”

Certain jobs are excluded from the bill, including in the airline and aerospace industries and those requiring a federal background investigation or security clearance.

Thanks to an amendment from Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, the bill also excludes professions where impairment on the job means “substantial risk of death.”

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