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What California employers should know about the new marijuana law

Sep 23, 2022 | Employment litigation

Ever since California legalized marijuana for recreational use in Nov. 2016 employees and employers have faced a problem. There was nothing in the law forbidding employers from firing or not hiring someone who tested positive for cannabis in a pre-hiring or random drug test. That meant California employees’ use of a legal substance outside of work could cost them their job – or prevent them from getting one. 

That is going to change thanks to a law just signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The law states that most employers cannot screen for “nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites” in random drug testing or in making employment decisions, including hiring and firing.

Nonpsychoactive vs. psychoactive metabolites

These nonpsychoactive metabolites indicate only that someone ingested cannabis at some point in the recent past. However, they are not indicative of current impairment. THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that causes the “high,” becomes nonpsychoactive as the high wears off, but can remain in a person’s system for up to a week after they last consumed the drug

Marijuana legalization advocates and unions have celebrated the passage and signing of the bill into law, even though it won’t take effect until the beginning of 2024. One labor union official said, “No employee deserves to feel stigmatized and unsafe at work because of an outdated testing method.” He also noted, “There are much more accurate, modern-day cannabis testing methods, like oral swabs, that are able to detect recent use and increase workplace safety.”

There will be exceptions

There are some exceptions in the law for employers in the construction industry. Another exception involves federal jobs since marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Employers still have over a year to prepare for the new law. However, it’s better to begin preparing sooner rather than later to ensure that you’re fully in compliance on Jan. 1, 2024. Having experienced legal guidance can help.