California Bills Protecting Workers From Dismissal For Off-Work Marijuana Use And Allowing Medical Cannabis For Animals Head To Governor

California bills providing broad job protections for workers who use marijuana outside of work and clarifying that veterinarians can recommend medical cannabis for animals are now heading to the governor’s office after final votes in the Assembly.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk’s (D) employment measure and Assemblyman Ash Kalra’s (D) veterinary bill are among the many pieces of cannabis legislation that have advanced through the legislature these last weeks.

The worker protection bill is particularly one that advocates say is long overdue in a state where marijuana has long been legal for medical and recreational use.

After first going through the Assembly in May, the bill went through several Senate committees and was amended before returning to the original chamber for passage. Tuesday, AB 2811 received a favorable final endorsement in a 41-15 count.

Earlier versions of the legislation had been stalled in the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee in previous sessions, but this latest version has now been approved by the Legislature and will await action from Governor Gavin. Newsom (D) once it is officially transmitted in the next few days.

Quirk’s bill would “make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any person in hiring, firing, or any term or condition of employment, or to otherwise penalize any person” solely because of the marijuana use outside working hours. It would eliminate job-based THC testing, with exceptions for certain positions, such as federal employees or those working in construction.

The reasoning behind the reform is largely based on the fact that most urine-based drug tests that employers use only test for inactive metabolites of THC, which may be present in a person’s system. for days or weeks after using cannabis.

Proponents say the existing policy unfairly discriminates against people who use marijuana outside of work hours, as permitted by state law.

Employers could still maintain drug-free workplaces and penalize workers for workers who come to work while actively impaired under the proposal.

Other states have cannabis-related job protections in place, primarily for medical marijuana patients, but this one extends those workplace safeguards to medical and adult consumers who act in accordance with state law.

That said, after New York enacted recreational legalization, the state Department of Labor also instituted new rules stating that employers can no longer test most workers for marijuana.

Last month, Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) also signed a bill that would ban most workplaces from firing or punishing employees for marijuana use.


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Back in California, Kalra’s AB 1885, if enacted, would prohibit regulators from penalizing licensed veterinarians who recommend medical cannabis for animals and would revise state law to include definitions of marijuana products intended for animal consumption. The Council of Veterinarians would also be required to create guidelines for veterinary cannabis recommendations.

“Soon we will have safe and regulated cannabis products to provide relief to our pets,” Kalra said in a tweet after the Assembly approved the Senate changes, sending the measure to Newsom.

These latest actions by the California legislature come days after lawmakers sent bills to the governor that would establish the framework for interstate marijuana trade, streamline case closings for cannabis convictions, protect companies that provide medical legal sector business insurance and more.

The legislative session ends on Wednesday and other cannabis reform bills are still in play.

Lawyers are also watching closely SB 1186a bill by Sen. Scott Wiener (D) that would “prohibit a local jurisdiction from enacting or enforcing any regulation prohibiting the retail sale by delivery within the local jurisdiction of medical cannabis to medical cannabis patients or their principals caregivers by medical cannabis companies.”

Newsom is a long-time supporter of marijuana reform and backing the state market, so he’s usually expected to sign off on these measures. But despite his record, he recently vetoed a key piece of Wiener’s drug policy reform legislation that would have authorized a safe drug consumption site pilot program in the state – a decision which has drawn much criticism from the harm reduction community.

San Francisco officials have since signaled they are prepared to challenge the governor and launch an overdose prevention program, regardless of the veto.

In another disappointment for reform supporters, a separate Wiener bill that would have legalized the possession of limited amounts of certain psychedelics was recently withdrawn by the sponsor after its key provisions were removed, leaving only an element of study which proponents say is unnecessary given the existing body of scientific literature on the subject.

Here is an overview of other recent drug policy developments in California:

Last month, California officials awarded more than $1.7 million in grants to help promote sustainable marijuana growing practices and help growers obtain their annual licenses. A total of $6 million will be allocated under the program, which was first announced in August 2021 and will remain open for applications until April 2023.

Regulators also recently announced they are seeking comment on proposed rules to standardize cannabis testing methods in the state — an effort they hope will stop marijuana companies from “lab buying.” to find facilities more likely to show higher THC concentrations than they can then boast of their products.

Meanwhile, California officials are handing out another round of community reinvestment grants totaling $35.5 million with tax revenue generated from recreational marijuana sales.

The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) announced last month that it has awarded 78 grants to organizations across the state that will support economic and social development in communities disproportionately affected by the war on Drugs.

The amount of funding and the number of recipients increased from last year’s levels, when the state awarded about $29 million in grants to 58 nonprofits under the CalCRG program.

California has collected nearly $4 billion in marijuana tax revenue since launching the state’s adult use market in 2018, the Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) reported at the end of the last month. And for the first quarter of 2022, the state saw approximately $294 million in cannabis revenue generated from excise, cultivation, and sales tax on marijuana.

The state collected about $817 million in adult marijuana tax revenue last fiscal year. This represented 55% more cannabis revenue for state coffers than was generated in the 2020-2021 period.

California officials also announced in January that the state had provided $100 million in funding to help develop local marijuana markets, in part by securing a full license for cannabis businesses.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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Bernard P. Love