Washington Bill Would Ban Pre-Employment Drug Testing for Cannabis

Senate Bill 5123 would ban most pre-employment drug testing for cannabis in the state of Washington.
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Washington state is poised to become the next state to ban most pre-employment drug tests for cannabis. As detection of THC is a poor way to measure impairment, given how long cannabis stays in the system, more states are dropping drug tests for cannabis.

A new bill could change the way drug tests screen for cannabis in the state. Senate Bill 5123, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), will ban pre-employment cannabis tests.

“This is a victory against discrimination toward people who use cannabis,” said Keiser, who serves as chair of the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee. “For people using a legal substance—many of them for medical reasons—locking them out of jobs based on a pre-employment test is just plain unfair, and we are putting a stop to it.”

Lawmakers in the state are beginning to see how drug testing for cannabis is detrimental, when otherwise qualified job applicants are denied jobs.

“It makes no sense to limit our state’s workforce by deterring qualified job applicants, especially at a time when the number of unfilled positions is at historic highs,” Keiser continued. “This legislation opens doors for people who might otherwise not even put in an application—and that’s a win for workers and for employers.”

The bill would apply to pre-employment drugs testing only, meaning that employers could still maintain drug-free workplace policies for employees, such as random drug testing. 

It would not prohibit using drug tests to screen for other drugs, and it would not prohibit using cannabis tests after accidents or because of suspicion of impairment.

Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) disagreed with the proposal and said the issue should be addressed by tweaking drug tests instead of introducing legislation to ban drug testing for cannabis.

“I acknowledge the problem,” Braun said. “I’m not sure this bill is the solution.”

An earlier version of the bill provided exemptions, such as applicants in the airline industry overs safety concerns, as well as federally regulated positions that typically require drug testing.

An amendment from Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima) added more exemptions to the bill.

The bill wouldn’t apply to safety-sensitive jobs, of which impairment while working would risk death, which was amended instead of listing specific industries. Employers would need to tell applicants if they test positive for cannabis in pre-employment drug tests.

Are Drug Tests an Accurate Way of Determining Impairment in the Workplace?

The Spokesman-Review reports that cannabis metabolites can be detected long after impairment, lasting up to 30 days or more. But cognitive impairment can last from three to 10 hours, according to a 2021 study by the University of Sydney. Those researchers found that drug tests for cannabis are likely an inaccurate way of determining impairment.

Researchers wrote that “finding an objective measure of recent cannabis use that correlates with impairment has proven to be an elusive goal.” Some states have enacted laws that set legal limits on the amount of THC a driver may have in their blood, similar to the 0.08% blood alcohol concentration limit in effect nationwide.

“These findings provide further evidence that single measurements of specific delta-9-THC blood concentrations do not correlate with impairment, and that the use of per se legal limits for delta-9-THC is not scientifically justifiable at the present time,” reads the study published by the journal Scientific Reports.

The bill is making its way through the legislative process and will head to a House committee for a public hearing not yet scheduled. Then it will return to the Senate for a concurrence vote before going to the governor’s desk to be signed.

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