Beginning in 2024, both Washington and California will prohibit employers from basing hiring decisions on an applicant’s legal marijuana use.

What Is Prohibited?

Effective January 1, 2024, employers are prohibited from discriminating against job applicants on the basis of lawful, off-the-job marijuana use. Specifically, employers may not rely on preemployment drug tests that screen for nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites when making hiring decisions. A similar law is slated to take effect in California the same day.

Nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites remain in the body even after it has metabolized any tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (the active chemical in marijuana). As a result, tests that detect nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites show whether someone has consumed marijuana within the last few weeks.

In passing this new law, the state legislature noted “[m]any tests for cannabis show only the presence of nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites from past cannabis use … that have no correlation to an applicant’s future job performance.” SB 5123 (to be codified at RCW Ch. 49.44). The legislature’s express intent in passing the new law was to “prevent restricting job opportunities based on an applicant’s use of cannabis.” Id.

The law does not prohibit employers from basing hiring decisions on drug tests that do not screen for nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites, nor does it affect employers’ ability to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free workplace. Employers are still permitted to test employees after accidents or when they suspect an employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol at work.

Employers may continue to use testing methods that screen for marijuana in addition to other substances only if the cannabis-related test results are not provided to the employer. In short, except as otherwise specified below, employers may not receive information about—or base hiring decisions on—applicants’ off-the-job marijuana use.

Who Is Affected?

All employers in Washington state are subject to the new law, but the ban on preemployment testing does not extend to all positions. The law does not apply to applicants pursuing roles:

  • That require a federal background check or security clearance.
  • With “general authority Washington law enforcement agencies” as defined in RCW 10.93.020.
  • With a fire department, fire protection district, or regional fire protection service authority.
  • As a first responder.
  • As a corrections officer.
  • In the airline and aerospace industries.
  • That are safety-sensitive positions for which impairment while working presents a substantial risk of death. The employer must identify such safety-sensitive roles in advance (i.e., before the applicant applies).

Washington’s law does not preempt state or federal laws that require applicants be tested as a condition of employment, as a requirement under a federal contract, or in order to receive federal funding or licensing-related benefits.

Employer Takeaways

To ensure compliance with this new law, employers should review their drug testing policies and procedures. If an employer plans to continue testing applicants for various substances, the employer must ensure that either the test they are using does not screen for cannabis or, at a minimum, that the employer will not be provided any cannabis-related results. They should also identify which jobs they consider “safety-sensitive” and be sure to include that information in any job postings.

Employers should work with experienced legal counsel to determine the best approach to ensuring compliance with this new law.

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After Tuesday’s election, Ohio is the latest state to legalize adult-use cannabis despite opposition from Republican Governor Mike DeWine and several trade groups.

Voters approved State Issue 2 with 57% voting in favor and 43% against. The measure allows Ohioans 21 years or older to buy, possess, and grow cannabis up to certain limits. It also establishes the Division of Cannabis Control to regulate and license cannabis operators and facilities. The regulations give licensing priority to existing medical operators but will allow additional licensure to meet the needs of the market.

The measure also levies a 10% tax on cannabis sales but prevents local governments from implementing additional taxes on cannabis operators. Tax revenue is estimated to reach $300 million in the first year of legal sales.

Lawmakers in the state’s legislature have the authority to amend or repeal the initiative, and any legislative battle over amendments could delay implementation.

Four states (Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Oklahoma) rejected ballot proposals to legalize adult-use cannabis this year, after Maryland and Missouri approved similar proposals last November. Two other states (Delaware and Minnesota) legalized adult-use cannabis possession and sales this year through the legislative process. With the addition of Ohio, more than half of the U.S. population now live in a jurisdiction with legal adult-use cannabis.

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Politico and Bloomberg both reported today that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is officially recommending that marijuana be moved to Schedule III from Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a historic shift that indicates the top health agency no longer considers cannabis to have high abuse potential with no medical value.

The rescheduling recommendation is not binding on the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), but DEA is statutorily obligated to accept HHS’s scientific and medical evaluation. If DEA decides to reschedule cannabis, the agency will go through a rulemaking process that includes a public comment period before issuing a final rule.

This development follows the completion of a scientific review into cannabis directed by President Biden last October. Marijuana is presently listed in Schedule I under the CSA, subjecting it to the greatest level of control reserved for substances deemed to have “no accepted medical use” and a “high potential for abuse.” As a result of its classification, state-licensed cannabis businesses operate under extreme regulatory burdens.

Lawyers and business professionals from Perkins Coie were instrumental in formulating the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform (CCSR), a diverse group of cannabis companies and scientific and legal authorities. In June, CCSR released a comprehensive report on the federal classification of cannabis co-authored by Andrew Kline, Co-Chair of Perkins Coie’s Cannabis Industry Group, with support from associate Tommy Tobin, and edited by paralegal Hanna Barker Mullin.

CCSR made the case in its report that marijuana is improperly placed in the same schedule as drugs like heroin and argues that the more appropriate options are to either remove the plant from the list of controlled substances altogether or reschedule it to Schedule III or below. The report outlines the scientific, economic, legal, and social justice considerations of these options compared to the status quo.

While cannabis would remain federally illegal under Schedule III, the reclassification would remove Internal Revenue Code Section 280E tax penalty, which prevents businesses “trafficking” in schedule I and II substances from taking deductions for ordinary business expenses, resulting in an effective tax rate of up to 80%. Rescheduling would eliminate this financial burden, providing much needed relief for regulated cannabis businesses. Moving cannabis out of schedule I would also eliminate a major obstacle for researchers, who presently must register with DEA to access cannabis for use in medical and scientific studies.

Perkins Coie is proud of its support for this burgeoning industry and will be working tirelessly to get this policy change over the finish line in the coming weeks.

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On July 12, 2023, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a public inventory of certain food ingredients that the agency has determined are unsafe because they are unapproved food additives that are not Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) when used as intended. FDA developed this inventory as part of its post-market surveillance of food ingredients. Notable ingredients included in the inventory are cannabidiol (CBD), melatonin, Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8-THC), and caffeinated alcoholic beverages. Concurrently, FDA also released lists of select chemicals in the food supply—including food ingredients, food contact substances, and contaminants under agency review.

For more details, read the Perkins Coie Update.

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Cannabis: In Focus

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Continue Reading Cannabis Legal Report—Week of July 17, 2023