Medical Marijuana Patients in DC Given Workplace Protections

The new bill protects registered medical marijuana patients from workplace discrimination. It is especially helpful for federal workers. 

The Washington, D.C. City Council last week voted 12 to 0 in favor of a bill that enacts workforce protections for employees registered with the District’s medical marijuana program.

The new law, Act Number A23-0114: The Medical Marijuana Program Patient Employment Protection Temporary Amendment Act, prohibits D.C. government agencies from firing, refusing to hire, and punishing employees for being registered medical marijuana patients.

Specifically, the new law states that, “A public employer may not refuse to hire, terminate from employment, penalize, fail to promote, or otherwise take adverse employment action against an individual based upon the individual’s status as a qualifying (medical) patient unless the individual used, possessed, or was impaired by marijuana at the individual’s place of employment or during the hours of employment.”

This is especially relevant to federal employees.

The legislation does not exempt registered patients from federally-required drug testing, nor does it apply to any patients working in “safety sensitive positions.”

The bill must now undergo a 30-day congressional review period. While D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser did not sign the bill, it will still take effect since she did not veto it.

According to a city spokesperson, Bowser feels city employers should set their medical cannabis patient policies on an “agency by agency basis.”

How the Bill Came About

Councilman David Grosso (I) initially introduced the bill in June. Prior to the vote by the City Council, he tweeted, “D.C. government employees should not be discriminated against for participating in the medical #marijuana program, long as they are not consuming on the job or showing up intoxicated.”

The bill came into law as a temporary measure for 225 days in a fashion that progressed it through the Council on an expedited basis. Members are now expected to devise a more permanent solution.

Reactions to the Bill

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was elated at the news. NORML has been at the forefront of cannabis and criminal justice reform since the 1970s.

“Employment protections are critical to ensure that law-abiding adults are not unduly discriminated against in their efforts to be productive members of society solely because of their use of medical cannabis while away from the job,” NORML State Policies Coordinator Carly Wolf said.

“The enactment of this law will provide clarity to employers and peace of mind to the employees who work in the District of Columbia,” she added.

Making Progress

Fifteen states already provide such workplace protections for medical marijuana patients. Maine and Nevada prohibit some non-safety sensitive employers from taking punitive actions against workers who use cannabis products during off hours.

A similar law that stopped drug testing from being used as a condition of employment was enacted in New York City without the mayor’s signature in May. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio is among the candidates running for president.

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