OLYMPIA – A bill that would prevent employers from testing for cannabis prior to hiring passed the state Senate last week
With some exceptions, the bill would require employers to stop testing applicants for cannabis as part of their pre-hiring practices, though the bill would not prevent employers from testing their employees after they’re hired, in accordance with their drug-free workplace standards.
For over a decade, recreational cannabis use has been legal in Washington. When a person consumes cannabis, the metabolites, known as cannabinoids, stay in their system for anywhere from a day to several months, depending on several factors. A user may test positive for cannabinoids well after they’ve ingested cannabis, despite no longer being impaired. Cognitive impairment can last from three to 10 hours, according to a 2021 study by the University of Sydney.
“It’s not like alcohol, it’s an after-the-fact situation,” bill sponsor Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, said. “It simply doesn’t make sense to base an employment decision on that kind of unreliable outcome and test. It really comes down to discriminating against people who use cannabis.”
Republican caucus leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said the issue should be addressed with technological advancements in drug tests rather than legislation.
“I acknowledge the problem,” Braun said. “I’m not sure this bill is the solution.”
Opponents of the bill also include small business owners and employers, who said drug testing was an important tool they could use to avoid liability and maintain a safe work environment.
“If something happens, the employer is responsible, not the impaired employee, not anyone else,” said Jim King with the Independent Business Association.
The Senate-approved bill is different than the one passed in a Senate committee. An earlier version of the bill exempted applicants in the airline industry due to safety concerns, as well as federally regulated positions that require drug testing .
An amendment from Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, added more exemptions to the bill. Instead of listing specific industries, the bill wouldn’t apply to “safety sensitive” jobs, of which impairment while working would risk death. Additionally, employers would need to make applicants aware if they test for cannabis prior to employment.
Following the bill’s successful advancement through the Senate, it heads to a House committee for a public hearing not yet scheduled.
House Majority Leader Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, told reporters last week that his caucus had not discussed the bill coming over from the Senate, but said they likely will want to provide more employment protections for people. State law couldn’t conflict with any federal laws, such as those that require testing to get a commercial driver’s license, he said.
House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said the federal restrictions on cannabis testing have created significant workforce issues, such as for truck drivers.
“This bill won’t address that, but it would be nice if the feds worked on this issue for workforce and other reasons,” she said in a news conference last week.
Keiser said this bill could be a tool to address the workforce shortage, a topic both sides of the aisle have identified as a priority this session.
“Some people who feel that they would be not even considered if they had to take a drug test prior to employment won’t apply, and we have short staffing situations in all kinds of occupations now,” Keiser said.
The bill passed in the Senate with votes 28-21. Most votes were along party lines, though King joined the Democrats in a yes vote and Sens. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, and Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, joined most Republicans in opposing the bill.