When the calendar flips to 2022 in a few days, most job applicants in Philadelphia will no longer have to sweat out a drug test for cannabis.
As of January 1, the city will prohibit most employers from conducting a cannabis drug test for new hires. The new ordinance, passed easily by the Philadelphia city council earlier this year, will be “the first of its kind in Pennsylvania,” according to local television station KDKA.
Recreational pot is still illegal in the state, but medical cannabis is not. The latter was the impetus for Philadelphia City Councilmember Derek Green to author the ordinance, telling KDKA that his chief focus was on medicinal cannabis.
“Cannabis is a unique product. Unlike alcohol and others, it metabolizes in your system a lot differently,” Green said, as quoted by the television station. “We’re having this conversation across the commonwealth and in the general assembly about whether we allow adult-use cannabis. But for me, those who really need medical marijuana, especially to improve their quality of life, shouldn’t be restricted from getting a job because that’s what we all want to see.”
There are a number of exemptions for the new ordinance, “including law enforcement, employees who need a commercial driver’s license, many health-care workers, and a broad category that includes ‘any position in which the employee could significantly impact the health or safety of other employees or members of the public,’” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The city council approved the ordinance in April by a 15-1 vote, with the lone vote against coming from David Oh, a Republican.
The legislation was signed into law by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney shortly thereafter.
While Philadelphia may be the first city in the Keystone State to enact such a measure, it has been done elsewhere—including in nearby New York City, which had its own ban on pre-employment cannabis drug testing go into effect last year.
Lawmakers in Nevada, where recreational pot is legal for adults, implemented its own ban last year, and earlier this year, not long after it ended prohibition on pot, New York made the ban statewide.
Much like in Philadelphia, New York City’s ban on pre-employment marijuana drug testing came before recreational pot was made legal.
The measure passed the New York City council in 201 after it was brought by Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate and a candidate for governor of New York.
“Marijuana testing isn’t a deterrent to using the drug, it’s an impediment to opportunity dating back to the Reagan area—one that disadvantages low-income workers, often workers of more color, many of whom we now call essential but treat as expendable.” Williams said after the ordinance took effect last year.
“Particularly now, as we are grappling with how to recover from the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the worst levels of unemployment in a century, we need to be creating more access points for employment, not less—and if prospective employers aren’t testing for past alcohol usage, marijuana should be no different. This is an economic recovery issue, a worker justice issue, and one that New York City must lead the way on.”
Green, the Philadelphia city councilmember, said that it didn’t make sense for employers to screen for something that is often recommended by doctors in the state.
“We’re using pre-employment testing for a product that is being recommended by physicians, for individuals within the city of Philadelphia, that’s authorized for them to be used,” Green said after it was approved in April, as quoted by the Philadelphia Inquirer. “That seems very contradictory.”