No more urine tests: Proposed California law would end most workplace marijuana tests

California adults can smoke marijuana without fear of going to jail, but using it after hours can still have consequences at work.

A new bill in the Legislature aims to end a still common employment practice five years after Californians voted to legalize recreational cannabis in which private companies require can workers to test for marijuana use.

Assembly Bill 1256, introduced by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, is intended to prevent employers from using past evidence of marijuana use, such as a hair or urine test, as justification for discrimination against an employee, such as denying or terminating employment, according to Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, a sponsor of the bill.

“It is those tests that we want to ban, because they don’t detect anything related to impairment,” Gieringer said.

Hair and urine can be used to show that a person has consumed marijuana in the past, but not whether they are actively intoxicated with THC, the chief psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

He likened using urine to determine whether somebody is intoxicated with cannabis with finding beer or wine bottles in a person’s trash and concluding that they must be drunk.

“You can’t judge a worker by their urine. If you do that, you’re going to have a piss-poor workforce,” Gieringer said.

He called hair and urine tests “an irrational discrimination” against cannabis users.

Gieringer said the proposal is not intended to prevent employers from using something like a blood test to see if an employee has THC in their system, a sign of recent use of cannabis.

Under current California law, employers are allowed to require “suspicionless” drug tests as a condition of employment, according to the California Chamber of Commerce.

Employers are not allowed to randomly drug test their employees, except under certain narrowly defined circumstances, again according to CalChamber.

Gieringer said that the language of AB 1256 is still being adjusted, and it likely would change with input from other groups. He said that it’s possible that the bill will be a “two-year bill,” meaning it might not be taken up this year.

One thing the current language of the bill contains is a provision allowing employees who face discrimination for cannabis use to take legal action.

The bill’s current language carries several exemptions.

Employers under a federal mandate to test for THC, or that would lose a monetary or licensing-related benefit for failing to test for THC. Also exempted would be employers in the building and construction trades.

Andrew Sheeler