Washington state advances legislation to ban pre-employment cannabis tests

Apr 26, 2023

On March 29, members of the House and Senate approved Senate Bill 5123 prohibiting employers in Washington state from taking adverse actions against new hires because of a failed drug test for cannabis.

Essentially, the bill, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), will prohibit pre-employment cannabis tests. In addition, new employees will no longer need to take cannabis tests as a condition of employment, as Washington joins California and Nevada in banning pre-employment discrimination based on cannabis. In addition, other states including Connecticut, Montana, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island have already limited employers’ ability to pre-screen applicants for past cannabis use, in addition to municipalities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and the District of Columbia.

“This is a victory against discrimination toward people who use cannabis,” said Sen. 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.”

Members of the House approved the measure yesterday following a vote of 57 to 41. Earlier in February, Senate members had already approved the bill.

“It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person in the initial hiring for employment if the discrimination is based upon: (a) The person’s use of cannabis off the job and away from the workplace; or (b) An employer-required drug screening test that has found the person to have non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites in their hair, blood, urine, or other bodily fluids,” states the legislation.

Moreover, the bill applies only to pre-employment drug testing, and employers could still continue implementing drug-free workplace policies for employees, including random drug testing. The bill would not prohibit using drug tests to test employees for other drugs, as well as from using cannabis tests after accidents or because of suspicion of impairment.

“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,” added Sen. Keiser. “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.”