Ban on marijuana pre-employment testing

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams presides over Tuesday’s Council Stated meeting as it voted to approve his marijuana Justice legislation
John McCarten, NYC Council

New York City Council on Tuesday approved legislation from Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, which bans pre-employment testing for marijuana usage in the vast majority of cases.

The legislation was co-prime sponsored by Majority Leader Laurie A. Cumbo and Council Member Carlina Rivera, and passed by an overwhelming majority at Tuesday’s Stated Meeting of the full Council, said Williams, the former representative for the 45th Council District in Brooklyn.

Williams said the bill, Intro 1445-A, prohibits employers in New York City from requiring a prospective employee to submit to testing for the presence of any tetrahydrocannabinols (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, in such prospective employee’s system as a condition of employment.

Exceptions are provided for certain safety and security sensitive jobs, and those tied to a federal or state contract or grant, Williams said.

He said cannabis accounts for about half of all positive results on drug tests, adding that failed tests lead to “an inability for many to advance in their careers.”

The public advocate said as many as 70 percent of large employers utilize pre-employment drug screenings, encompassing as many as 40 percent of jobs.

Opponents of testing argue that in many cases, pre-employment testing for THC does more harm than marijuana itself, with applicants being rejected for a positive test, or declining to apply to jobs that require it.

“This kind of screening is separate from any restrictions preventing usage while on the job, and so rather than improving work quality it depletes the overall talent pool of applicants,” Williams said, adding that over half of Americans report at least trying marijuana.

He said a majority of New Yorkers support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

“Testing isn’t a deterrent to using marijuana; it’s an impediment to opportunity that dates back to the Reagan era — a war on drugs measure that’s now a war on workers,” Williams said. “Prospective employers don’t test for alcohol, so marijuana should be no different.

“But, in no way, does this bill justify individuals going to work under the influence,” he added. “We need to be creating more access points for employment, not less. And, as we push for legalization on a state level, it makes absolutely no sense that we’re keeping people from finding jobs or advancing their careers because of marijuana use.

“This bill is a step in the right direction, and I intend to continue to push for this protection to apply to more New Yorkers across a wider range of professions,” Williams continued.

The bill is one in a series of marijuana justice measures pushed by the Council’s Progressive Caucus, which also includes legislation passed on Tuesday by Council Member Donovan Richards (D-Queens) that bans the Department of Probation from conducting drug tests for marijuana.

Williams has previously passed resolutions calling for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to add marijuana usage to its list of “overlooked offenses” and calling for the expungement of records for marijuana-related offenses.

Last year, Williams introduced legislation to prevent the Department of Sanitation and the Taxi and Limousine Commission from using cannabis offenses as the sole reason for denial of license or dismissal from employment.

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