As Missouri lawmakers work to advance marijuana legalization in the state, the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday approved a bill to ban pre-employment and random drug testing for cannabis for most county workers.
The move would build on broader local actions to decriminalize cannabis possession and cultivation in the city of St. Louis, as well as a local Kansas City Council vote last year to enact a similar policy drug testing policy change for cannabis.
The new measure, sponsored by Councilmember Lisa Clancy (D), states: “No person currently employed by St. Louis County or applying for employment by St. Louis County shall be required to undergo pre-employment or random drug testing for the presence of marijuana metabolites (THC) as a condition or part of employment.”
There are exceptions, however. People who are mandated to undergo drug testing under specific state or federal laws, those who work in safety sensitive positions and those who are suspected of having been intoxicated on the job could still be screened for cannabis.
Meanwhile, there are efforts underway in Missouri to legalize adult-use marijuana statewide, with a Republican lawmaker unveiling a measure to tax and regulate cannabis last month.
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Rep. Ron Hicks (R), sponsor of the “Cannabis Freedom Act,” said in a memo to colleagues that the measure was drafted in a way that thoughtfully incorporates elements from “every marijuana bill filed this session” to create a “free but tightly regulated market for legal marijuana.” That measure was heard in a House committee on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, another Missouri Republican lawmaker is again making a push to place cannabis legalization on the ballot with a resolution he filed late last year.
Under that plan, adults 21 and older could purchase, possess and cultivate cannabis for personal use. It also does not specify allowable amounts.
Still, some activists aren’t waiting on the legislature to take action to refer the issue to voters, with one campaign officially launching signature gathering in January for a separate reform initiative.
Separately, the group New Approach Missouri, which successfully got a medical cannabis initiative passed by voters in 2018, announced last summer its plans to put the reform proposal on the ballot through its new campaign committee Legal Missouri 2022.
Some stakeholders—particularly black entrepreneurs—have expressed concerns about proposed licensing caps included in that campaign’s proposal.
The organization tried to place the issue of legalization before voters in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed that effort.
Despite the health crisis, activists managed to collect 80,000 raw signatures within months, though they needed 160,199 valid signatures to qualify.
A different campaign, Fair Access Missouri, is separately exploring multiple citizen initiatives with the hopes of getting at least one on the ballot next year. Three of the four would create a system of legalized cannabis sales for adults 21 and older, while another would simply amend the state’s existing medical marijuana program.
Another state lawmaker filed a bill in January to decriminalize a range of drugs including marijuana, psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and cocaine.
The measure’s introduction came after a Republican Missouri legislator filed a separate bill to give residents with serious illnesses legal access to a range of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, ibogaine and LSD through an expanded version of the state’s existing right-to-try law.
Nearly one out of every 10 jobs that were created in Missouri last year came from the state’s medical marijuana industry, according to an analysis of state labor data that was released by a trade group earlier this month.
Separately, there’s some legislative drama playing out in the state over a proposal that advocates say would restrict their ability to place Constitutional amendments on the ballot.
Now back to drug testing policy reform in the era of legalization.
Just last week, the Illinois House of Representatives passed legislation to protect workers from being fired for using cannabis in their free time, with some exceptions.
Also last week, a Washington, D.C. Council committee unanimously approved a bill to ban most workplaces from subjecting job applicants to pre-employment marijuana testing. It would expand on previous legislation the D.C. Council approved to protect local government employees against workplace discrimination due to their use of medical cannabis.
Following the enactment of adult-use legalization in New York, the state Department of Labor announced a policy change barring most employers from drug testing certain workers for marijuana.
At the federal level, House appropriations legislation and attached reports passed by the House last year directed federal government agencies to reconsider policies that fire employees for using cannabis in compliance with state law. But that provision was not included in the omnibus package approved by the House on Wednesday.
The White House Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently issued a memo to federal agencies that says admitting to past marijuana use should not automatically disqualify people from being employed in the federal government.
Last month, a top Wells Fargo analyst says that there’s one main reason for rising costs and worker shortages in the transportation sector: federal marijuana criminalization and resulting drug testing mandates that persist even as more states enact legalization.
In January, a coalition of more than two dozen congressional Democrats filed bill on promoting workplace investment to combat climate change, and they want to boost the workforce nationwide by protecting people in legal marijuana states from being penalized due to federal drug testing policies.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.