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Queens Chronicle

Business split on marijuana test ban

City law to stop most pre-employment testing for pot use come May 2020

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Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2019 10:30 am

Beginning next spring, New York City residents who use marijuana will have fewer hurdles when looking for work as a result of a recently passed law by the Committee on Civil and Human Rights.

The law, sponsored by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, will prohibit pre-employment testing for marijuana and THC for thousands of positions throughout the city. New York became the first city in the country to pass such a law.

The bill spent nearly two months between committees before being approved by the City Council on April 9. Prior to the vote, the bill had support from multiple committee members, including Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows).

“At a time when New York City has fundamentally changed how it policies marijuana, it made no sense for an individual to be denied employment because of previous marijuana use,” Lancman said. “This legislation knocks down a barrier to opportunity for New Yorkers, and I am proud to co-sponsor it.”

Upon passage, Williams spoke about how drug tests have become an outdated practice.

“This is to take away an artificial barrier to employment,” he said. “This testing isn’t a deterrent to using marijuana. It’s an impediment to opportunity.”

He went on to compare marijuana to alcohol and the lack of testing for alcohol.

“Most employers do not test for alcohol and we believe that marijuana should at least be at the same level as alcohol,” he said. “You should not be going to work drunk and you should not be going to work high. This does not make any of those things legal or prevent employers from firing them.”

Following his speech, the bill passed by a 40-4 vote and became law on May 10. Those who voted against the bill included Councilmen Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-Bronx), Steven Matteo (R-Staten Island), and Kalman Yeger (D-Brooklyn).

Many businesses were on board with the new law, but criticized that it won’t stop employers from testing and disciplining employees after hiring.

“If they aren’t testing up-front, some employers might test more often later on, not just for workers compensation,” said Glenn Greenidge, executive director for the Sutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District.

Employers will still have the ability to discipline those workers who are found to have been using marijuana after being hired, whether it’s a result of a random drug test, an injury or other form of suspicion.

Other business leaders were not as enthusiastic, citing safety concerns. Tom Grech, executive director for the Queens Chamber of Commerce, does not support the law.

“In all positions, not just ones involving machinery, this causes a real issue and concern. You don’t want people you’re working with to be high on the job for your own safety,” Grech said.

Ashley Greenspan, vice president of communications for the Partnership for New York City, claims the organization received little to no complaints regarding the law and that the only issues also centered on dangerous positions.

“Contractors and those who work with machinery have concerns regarding insurance and safety,” Greenspan said.

Businesses that were worried about safety had no need for concern, as such positions were on an exclusion list that the law would not affect. In addition to those involving machinery, all jobs within the health and safety industry were excluded from the parameters of the law such as law enforcement officers, construction workers, commercial drivers, and medical workers.

Employees of federal and state departments are also excluded and are permitted to continue using such drug tests as part of their hiring process. Employers who do not fall within the exclusion list were given one year to revise their drug-testing policies, as the law will not officially take effect until May 10, 2020.

Those who support the law also supported the penalization of employers who fail to revise their policies by that date. “The important thing is that people are given a chance, the past is the past, and those employers should be penalized,” said Greenidge. Wiliams agrees.

“If you ingest weed in whatever manner a month ago, I’m not sure how that prevents you from doing your job now,” he said.

It has taken time for knowledge of the law to spread throughout the city and for a response from businesses. Some business leaders were not aware of the law in the first place while others have not had a chance to discuss it yet.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to speak with our small businesses on Jamaica Avenue about the new law yet,” said Trey Jenkins, director of marketing and business Services for the Jamaica Center BID.

When the law is officially put into effect next spring, it will be just four months after a similar law takes effect in Nevada, making it the first statewide law regarding pre-employment drug-testing.

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