Over the past 20 years, Oakland has been a standing pioneer of embracing marijuana. However, the city that paved the way for regulation, taxation, and decriminalization of marijuana, is still testing its employees for cannabis. The city may change this soon, though; five years after the state voted to legalize recreational marijuana use, the Oakland City Council is moving forward with a proposal to terminate the practice of drug screening employees and prospective employees for traces of marijuana in their system.
On Tuesday, November 9, the Council’s Public Safety Committee voted 4-0 to bring Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan’s ordinance to the full council for approval. However, city staff must first meet and consult with labor unions representing the city workers about the policy change. State law permits employers to perform “suspicionless” drug tests as a stipulation of employment. However, Kaplan and others have mentioned that the city’s testing policy is old-fashioned and out of touch with most Oaklander’s ideals on marijuana.
Specific tests can disproportionately punish employees or potential candidates for using a legal substance while off from work, supporters of the termination said Tuesday, November 9. For instance, urine and hair samples reveal inactive drug residues that can stay in someone’s body for days or weeks, way after the effects of the drug have fully ended. This results in, according to Kaplan, responsible marijuana users being caught and punished for conduct that doesn’t harm or endanger anyone.
Kaplan expressed to the Oaklandside, “We shouldn’t be weeding out workers for something legal.” She continued, “Oakland is the reason there is legalization in America. Why on Earth would we take a step in the wrong direction and punish workers for off-the-job legal conduct?” The ruling would not apply to screening employees “suspected of being under the influence at work or under a “last chance” agreement,” according to Oaklandside, in which an employee with a documented substance abuse problem agrees to terms of employment that could include testing.
If the measure is passed, it will clarify the city’s testing policy so that the only other time the city tests workers for marijuana is when the federal government requires it. All non-fire department commercial drivers, such as street sweepers, are subject to random drug tests under the federal Department of Transportation regulations. Since the city receives federal funding, it’s required to follow federal drug-free workplace stipulations, as reported by city spokesperson Karen Boyd. So it seems that some workers won’t be able to purchase containers of marijuana and spark up, depending on their specific job requirement, which may include driving in some cases.
An additional exception would be instances where a labor contract requires drug screenings. The state would be able to join an increasing number of cities and states enacting laws protecting the various employment rights of recreational marijuana users. A large portion of the City Council indicated they support the proposed legislation. When cities such as Oakland make moves to push marijuana reform forward, it shows how much society is changing.