How Do New Labor Laws Starting in 2024 Help Protect Cannabis Workers?

December 27, 2023 · Cannabis.net

California workers will soon enjoy official safeguards against discrimination related to their off-duty use of cannabis or marijuana. This protection stems from an amendment to California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (AB 2188), endorsed by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 18, 2022, and set to be effective from January 1, 2024. AB 2188 makes it unlawful for employers to refuse employment, penalize, or terminate individuals based on their use of cannabis products outside of work.

Even though California was a trailblazer in legalizing medical marijuana in 1996 and one of the first to approve recreational use in 2016, AB 2188 stands out as the first law in the state specifically offering workplace protections for employees using marijuana for either medical or recreational reasons.

AB 2188 prohibits employers from holding an applicant’s drug test results against them if evidence of past marijuana use is revealed. The primary focus of employment-related drug testing under the new law is to assess impairment on the job or at the worksite, rather than scrutinizing long-term usage. Furthermore, it will become illegal for employers to inquire about an applicant’s history of cannabis or marijuana use.

Before the enactment of AB 2188, employers had the authority to discipline employees for using medical or recreational marijuana during their off-duty hours. However, this practice will soon be illegal. For instance, if an individual uses marijuana recreationally during the weekend while off-duty and away from the workplace, employers cannot use this as grounds for disciplinary action when the individual returns to work on Monday.

AB 2188 maintains the allowance for employers to restrict marijuana use on the job. The legislation explicitly prohibits employees from possessing, being impaired by, or using cannabis during working hours. The bill clarifies that it does not impact an employer’s rights or obligations to maintain a drug-and-alcohol-free workplace.

However, exceptions to the protections exist for employees in “the building and construction trades” and individuals applying for or holding federal jobs requiring clearance from the U.S. Department of Defense. These individuals may still face employment denial or disciplinary measures for cannabis usage outside of work.

Evolution of Cannabis Legislation in California

California’s journey towards cannabis legalization has been a dynamic and progressive one, reflecting the changing attitudes and societal norms surrounding the use of marijuana. The state set a groundbreaking precedent by legalizing medical marijuana in 1996, acknowledging its therapeutic benefits and affording patients the right to access cannabis for medical purposes.

Building on this success, California became one of the first states to legalize cannabis usage for recreational purposes in 2016, making history once more. A major change occurred with the passage of Proposition 64, which acknowledged adults’ use of marijuana for non-medical purposes. This critical juncture not only matched changing public attitudes but also established the framework for further legislative events, such as the filing of Assembly Bill 2188 (AB 2188).

AB 2188, endorsed by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 18, 2022, represents a crucial evolution in California’s cannabis laws. While previous legislation focused on the rights of individuals to use marijuana for medical and recreational reasons, AB 2188 takes a step further by specifically addressing the intersection of cannabis use and employment. This landmark amendment to the Fair Employment and Housing Act signifies the state’s commitment to adapting its legal framework to accommodate employers’ and employees’ rights and expectations.

The historical trajectory of cannabis legalization in California underscores the state’s progressive stance, setting the stage for AB 2188 to provide comprehensive workplace protections against discrimination related to off-duty cannabis use. As California continues to shape its cannabis laws in response to societal shifts, AB 2188 emerges as a crucial component in ensuring a balanced and fair approach to cannabis regulation in the workplace.

Implications for Employers and Employees

Assembly Bill 2188 (AB 2188) introduces a new era of workplace protections in California, specifically addressing the rights of employees concerning their off-duty cannabis use. The legislation significantly reshapes the dynamics between employers and employees by prohibiting the use of an applicant’s past marijuana use against them in hiring decisions. This prohibition is a key aspect of the law, emphasizing a departure from traditional employment practices that may have penalized individuals for legal activities outside of working hours.

For employees, AB 2188 provides a shield against discrimination based on cannabis use, whether for medical or recreational purposes. This landmark legislation establishes that employers cannot refuse employment, penalize, or terminate individuals solely on the grounds of their off-duty cannabis consumption. This marks a critical shift towards recognizing individuals’ rights to engage in legal activities during their time without facing unwarranted consequences in the workplace. By focusing on impairment during working hours rather than scrutinising long-term cannabis use, the law aims to strike a balance between safeguarding employee rights and ensuring a safe working environment.

While AB 2188 grants significant protections to employees, it also acknowledges the rights and obligations of employers in maintaining a drug-and-alcohol-free workplace. The legislation maintains employers’ authority to restrict marijuana use on the job, preventing impairment that could compromise safety and productivity. This balance between individual rights and workplace safety reflects California’s commitment to fostering a work environment that respects both the personal liberties of employees and the responsibility of employers to maintain a secure and efficient workplace.

Bottom Line

California’s Assembly Bill 2188 signifies a groundbreaking evolution in cannabis legislation, charting a course that prioritizes employee rights and protection against discrimination for off-duty cannabis use. The state’s historical journey from medical legalization in 1996 to recreational approval in 2016 has culminated in AB 2188, a law specifically tailored to address the intersection of cannabis use and employment. This legislation, effective from January 1, 2024, establishes a balance between individual freedoms and workplace responsibilities, prohibiting employers from penalizing employees based on past cannabis use. While granting comprehensive protections, AB 2188 acknowledges industry-specific nuances, introducing exceptions for individuals in certain trades or federal positions. As California pioneers this nuanced approach, the state sets a precedent for the integration of cannabis regulations into the workplace, fostering an environment that respects individual liberties while upholding safety and productivity. (Full Story)

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