As a sign of a sea change in attitude toward marijuana use, New York is on the brink of enacting a trailblazing bill that prevents most New York City employers from forcing applicants to submit to a drug test for marijuana.
Sponsored by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, the bill passed overwhelmingly on Tuesday in a 40-to-4 vote. It applies to most companies, both private and public. However, the measure will exclude industries where safety and security are a concern, such as law enforcement, construction, commercial driving, and health and child care. Also, employers could be permitted to perform a drug test on an employee shows signs of being under the influence of marijuana during work hours.
The proposed law would also not supersede federal drug-test requirements on federal and state employees or contractors and transportation workers.
The bill is believed to put New York at the vanguard of cities in the U.S. working toward preventing employers from enforcing punitive policies on marijuana use, according to Dionna King, a policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization which works on drug reform initiatives across the country.
King said that to her office’s knowledge, most of the legislation elsewhere has extended to individuals using medical marijuana.
“In that sense, it’s a huge step in creating legal protection and having it be made a part of policy,” she said.
Press officials at City Hall did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Gothamist. However, Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a mayoral spokesperson, told the New York Times that de Blasio fully supports the bill.
In a press release, Williams said, "Testing isn't a deterrent to using marijuana, it's an impediment to opportunity that dates back to the Reagan era's war on drugs measure that's now a war on workers. Prospective employers don't test for alcohol so marijuana should be no different, but in no way does this bill justify individuals going to work under the influence.”
Testing for drug use by employers ramped up during the 1980s under former President Ronald Reagan, who mandated drug testing at federal agencies. Critics have faulted Reagan's aggressive anti-drug campaign and political hysteria with giving way to a zero-tolerance policy that continued to linger into the early 1990s.
Drug Policy Alliance has been working on a package of bills related to marijuana justice reform that have been introduced in the City Council. On Wednesday, the City Council held a hearing on a bill that would require the city’s Administration for Children’s Services to report data on the role marijuana plays in its investigations, driven by the concern that recreational marijuana use disproportionately affects low-income families of color.
In marijuana-driven cases, the city’s child welfare system needs to provide more transparency, King said.
Opponents of the bill included the Partnership for New York City, a coalition of business interests. Its president Kathryn S. Wylde said the legislation was interfering with "the relationship between employers and employees" and would also drive up costs for companies that needed to change their policies to adjust to a new city law.
Although the legalization was cited as one of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s priorities, the measure did not make the recent budget.
Nonetheless, progressive Democrats and advocates of legalization have been keeping the issue at the forefront, not only to legalize marijuana but remove the punitive policies associated with the drug.
“We are happy with this progress,” King said. In the meantime, she added, “If the state is not there yet, we’re going to work with municipalities.”