Oakland Assemblyman's Bill Would Provide Workplace Protections for Medical Cannabis Users

2 min
"California patients who use medical cannabis are being discriminated against in the workplace. They shouldn’t be," said Assemblyman Rob Bonta. (Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)

With marijuana now legal for anyone over age 21 in California, a question still lingers over the workplace: Could employees still lose their job if they test positive on a drug test — even if they aren’t intoxicated at work?

State Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) is seeking a change in the law on behalf of medical marijuana patients, a population he argues is no different from any other patient with a medical condition. He’s proposed a bill that would make it illegal to fire someone or deny employment based on a drug test that turns up positive for medical marijuana.

Bonta says he’s tired of people losing their jobs for taking a medication with fewer negative side effects than opiates, and he’s come to view medical marijuana as a civil rights issue.

“California patients who use medical cannabis are being discriminated against in the workplace. They shouldn’t be. This bill would end that discrimination,” Bonta said.

Under Assembly Bill 2069, companies could still fire an employee for testing positive if they don’t hold a medical card, or if they show up impaired at work. If a medical patient did test positive, the employer would need to treat the matter as any other medical condition, and make a reasonable accommodation to help the employee continue working. Federal employees would be exempt from the bill’s protections, as would federal contractors who must adhere to the Drug-Free Workplace Act.

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Proposition 64,, the ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana in 2016, made it legal for employers to fire an employee who tests positive for recreational marijuana. AB 2069 would apply to medical cannabis patients only.

Anthony Trenton is president of the Sacramento franchise RCpoint Labs, a national drug testing service. The problem with Bonta’s bill, he says, is that when it comes to cannabis, it’s hard to determine when the drug stops affecting the user. In terms of productivity, Trenton argues that a marijuana hangover can be detrimental.

“It’s overall hurting your business if you aren’t testing for marijuana,” Trenton said.

James Relles poses in the showroom of Relles Florist, a 71-year-old family-owned flower shop in Sacramento.
James Relles poses in the showroom of Relles Florist, a 71-year-old family-owned flower shop in Sacramento. (Allen Young/KQED)

While some studies have drawn links between cannabis use and negative effects for the workplace such as decreased motivation, another issue is that, as pointed out by the Human Resources Professionals Association, cannabis affects people differently, and urine sample testing cannot reliably determine impairment.

James Relles is the owner of Relles Florist in Sacramento, a family-owned flower shop that recently celebrated 71 years in business. Relles does not currently drug test his employees, but he plans to start since cannabis is now legal in California. He’s worried, though, that this bill could make it more difficult to prove whether marijuana had a role in a workplace accident.

“That’s just another headache for small business,” he said.