In the midst of the growing marijuana decriminalization movement, New York City’s city council has passed a groundbreaking bill that would prevent most employers from requiring job applicants to undergo marijuana drug tests.
Authored by public advocate Jumaane D. Williams, the bill would be the first legislation in the country to explicitly prohibit employers from marijuana testing job applicants, the New York Times reports. Though the bill wouldn’t be enacted for at least a year after passage, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s administration told the New York Times it had the mayor’s full-throated support.
The initiative would apply to private and public employees, though a few groups, such as pilots, truck drivers, construction workers and police officers, would not be exempt from marijuana testing. Employees suspected of smoking marijuana during work hours would also not be exempt from drug testing.
According to NORML deputy director Paul Armentano, the legislation, if enacted, would be groundbreaking. “I’m unaware of any other municipality, and certainly not a city the size of New York City, enacting similar legislation limiting the scope of drug screenings and the consequences associated with a positive test result in such a manner,” he told Rolling Stone.
Armentano also pointed out that the New York city council passed another bill that would not require people to undergo mandatory marijuana drug testing as a condition for probation or parole. Unlike the employee screening bill, this bill would take immediate effect once signed into law, and is arguably “equally if not more significant,” Armentano said.
Although more than 50% of companies require prospective employees to undergo drug tests, according to a poll released by the Society for Human Resource Management, such testing is costly (most employers pay between $31 and $40 per employee for a test) and can also potentially indicate the presence of marijuana for months after use. “A positive test result for cannabis… does not provide any definitive information regarding a subject’s frequency of cannabis use, when he or she last consumed it, or whether one may have been under the influence of the substance at the time the drug screening was administered,” Armentano said. As nationwide marijuana use increases, thus yielding more positive tests, many companies are doing away with mandatory drug testing altogether.
Marijuana is still illegal in New York City and New York state. Yet despite recent stalemates, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has actively pushed for statewide legalization, and last month the city council passed a resolution calling to expunge all previous marijuana-related convictions (a move that echoes a similar initiative that San Francisco passed earlier this year). Additionally, there is widespread support for marijuana legalization in New York State, with an estimated 65% supporting the legalization of possession of a small amount of marijuana, according to a Jan. 2019 Quinnipiac University poll.