Many job-seekers would no longer face tests for marijuana use under legislation that New York City is likely to enact, taking a novel step as lawmakers and employers around the U.S. grapple with workplace policies about pot.
The Democrat-led City Council passed a measure Tuesday that would ban pre-employment testing for the drug, with certain exceptions.
Supporters say the measure, which if enacted may be the first of its breadth, would knock down a barrier that blocks people from jobs because of private behavior, not professional ability. And they note that marijuana can show up on a drug test days, or sometimes longer, after the high wears off.
"If you ingest weed in whatever manner a month ago, I'm not sure how that prevents you from doing your job now," Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat who sponsored the proposal, told the council.
But some council members and business groups object to what they see as municipal meddling with a valid employment concern.
"Private businesses should have the power to determine their own hiring practices—not just in deciding what skills and experience are relevant to certain positions, but also whether the use of a specific drug could have an adverse impact on a prospective employee's ability to perform," Council Republican Leader Steven Matteo said in a statement.
The measure is awaiting action from Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat. A spokeswoman told The New York Times that City Hall supports the legislation; The Associated Press sent an inquiry Friday seeking to confirm the mayor's position.
Drug-testing job applicants became common in the U.S. in the late 1980s, but marijuana screening is getting some reconsideration as the drug has gained legal ground. Most states, including New York, now have legal medicinal marijuana programs, and 10 states and the District of Columbia allow recreational pot use. New York is considering it.
Medical marijuana users in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have won lawsuits in recent years against companies that rescinded job offers or fired workers because of positive tests for pot. A number of businesses around the country have simply stopped marijuana-testing applicants .
"In this environment where unemployment is pretty low and where marijuana is becoming ever more socially acceptable ... employers are either philosophically or practically having to take a long, hard look at whether they're even going to screen for pot," said Michael Clarkson, a Boston-based employment lawyer who specializes in drug-testing issues.
Some officials also have taken a look at whether businesses should do so.
Washington, D.C. prohibits marijuana testing before a job offer is extended (some states apply this standard to all drug testing). Lawmakers in Nevada, where recreational marijuana use is legal, have been considering a proposal that would ban companies from disqualifying job candidates for testing positive for pot.
The New York City measure appears to go further by barring businesses from making applicants take marijuana tests at any point before hiring. There are exceptions for police, construction workers, commercial drivers, child care workers and certain others.
It doesn't stop employers from testing current workers, or from firing them if they fail.
Some civil rights advocates suggest the legislation is too narrow but still commend it.
"Overall, it was a good start for prospective employees," said Anthony Posada of the Legal Aid Society's Community Justice Unit.
Major testing lab Quest Diagnostics says a small proportion of workforce tests nationally come back positive for marijuana or any other drugs, but the number has been growing in recent years.
Including job applicants and hired workers, the positive-test rate for marijuana was 2.8 percent last year, up from 2.4 percent in 2014, the Secaucus, New Jersey-based company said Thursday.