A bill that would make it illegal for employers to ask job applicants about prior marijuana use passed the Assembly this week, moving the bill to a final Senate vote before going to the Governor’s desk.
Senate Bill 700, authored by Senator Steven Bradford (D-Los Angeles), would make it unlawful for an employer to request information from an applicant for employment relating to the applicant’s prior use of cannabis. The bill does clarify that it will not permit employees to possess, use, or be impaired by marijuana while on the job if stated by the employer’s rules, and that only asking about prior drug usage during the hiring process will be covered. It also clarifies that employers can still find out about prior marijuana use from getting an applicant’s criminal history if permitted to by law.
Bradford authored the bill because of so many potential candidates with concerns about not getting a job after admitting to prior marijuana use. Other bill supporters also pointed out that many applicants would “respond dishonestly” about prior usage to get the position.
“When employers ask applicants about past marijuana use, it not only dissuades candidates from applying for these positions but also leads to situations in which individuals respond dishonestly to get the job,” said Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) on Wednesday.
Because of the greater laxness around prior drug usage, and how those using marijuana would now have less obstacles towards potentially getting a job, SB 700 polarized both the Assembly and Senate throughout the year. Support wound up being based strictly on party lines. A May Senate vote ended with a 29-9 with 2 abstentions passage. Following that, law enforcement groups stepped up the number of warnings about what the bill could do on a public safety level. However, this failed to change the party line split, and SB 700 moved up through the Assembly all summer, eventually passing 59-8 with 13 abstentions on Wednesday.
A final Senate vote to approve the bill with the amendments that altered it since it was last there in May and a decision by Governor Gavin Newsom are currently the two remaining obstacles for the bill, barring a legal challenge or attempt to bring the decision to voters.
“Marijuana has been legal in California since Prop 64 was passed in 2016,” said Vera Feliciano, a cannabis law expert in the Bay Area. “SB 700 is just one of many bills that has dealt with the aftermath of it. Marijuana is free to be used like alcohol. But, just like alcohol, you can’t drive while being under the influence of it, you can’t go to work while under the influence in most situations, and there are generally the same laws with it.”
“However, there are still many laws in the books from when marijuana was illegal, as well as many employer rules, like asking about prior usage, that come pre-2016. Many employers would like to know beforehand if their employee does smoke marijuana, especially in jobs when they could be on-call or would need to fill in last minute. But, at the same time, people applying for jobs are worried they may not get the job if they admit to prior usage.”
“This is kind of a compromise. Employers can’t ask about it, but the bill also gives a backdoor way to find out if the potential employee in question has gotten in trouble due to the drug before. It’s not being said, but this kind of weeds out the irresponsible marijuana users.”
If passed, SB 700 would go into effect starting January 1, 2o24.
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