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Illinois Bill To Protect Pot Smokers’ Jobs Backed By Dems

A proposal to prohibit firing Illinois workers for marijuana in their systems moved closer to passage earlier this month


A proposal to prohibit firing Illinois workers for trace amounts of marijuana in their systems moved closer to passage earlier this month. That’s when the Illinois House of Representatives approved the measure. But some employers remain leery about it, reports the Chicago Tribune.

The chief sponsor, state Rep. Bob Morgan, a Democrat from Deerfield and an attorney who does cannabis consulting. Morgan said the change would let people, especially medical marijuana patients, use a legal product on their own time “and not fear losing their job.”

New York has already adopted a similar policy.

Most Democrats Favor; Most Republicans Oppose

But some employers see it differently. They claim the bill would only lead to more court battles over who qualifies and how it is applied.

The House voted 61-41 to pass the bill, largely along partisan lines. Most Democrats voted in favor and most Republicans opposed.

The measure underwent two amendments that helped get the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association and Illinois Manufacturers’ Association to drop their staunch opposition and at least go neutral. The Illinois Senate is now considering bill.

To THC, Or Not To THC, That Is The Question

The bill would prohibit employers from firing or refusing to hire someone based on a positive test for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main ingredient in marijuana that gets users high. That’s unless the worker shows signs of active impairment or tests higher than the threshold for driving under the influence. In Illinois, that limit is 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, or 10 nanograms per milliliter of saliva or urine.

Employers would still be able to set zero-tolerance levels for weed, to exclude workers in safety sensitive positions. Federal law prohibits law enforcement, firefighters and federal workers or contractors from using marijuana.

The measure prohibits certain other workers from Cannabis use. The bill excepts those carrying a firearm on the job, for example. This also includes those who perform medical procedures or emergency services. Also those who work with hazardous or flammable materials or drugs; or heavy machinery, aircraft, watercraft or motorized vehicles can be prohibited from marijuana use. Also, anyone who performs “critical services” and works with “critical infrastructure” can be tested.

37 Medical States; 18 Adult-Use States

Federal law still prohibits Cannabis possession. But medical marijuana is legal in 37 states, and 18 states allow adult use. The number of workers testing positive in the workplace has risen since 2016, testing company Quest Diagnostics reported. Of course, they do sell marijuana tests.

The overall marijuana positivity rate in the U.S. workforce in 2020, the most recent year available, was 4.4%. That’s down slightly from a 16-year high in 2019.

Workplace drug testing has disrupted the supply chain. For example, 72,000 truckers out of 3 million registered lost their jobs due to failed tests since the beginning of 2020, according to government data. More than half of those failed tests were due to marijuana.

THC Remains In The Body For Weeks

THC metabolites can remain in the human body for weeks. That’s why the NORML has long called for testing performance, rather than testing for metabolites. All in all, it’s a much more accurate way to determine if employees are impaired on the job.

Julie Schauer, board vice president of Parents Opposed to Pot, called the proposal “a breach of the legislators’ responsibility to public safety.” She claimed the proposal would lead to more workplace accidents and higher workers’ compensation and insurance costs.

Illinois lawmakers approved legalization with the promise that employers would have protections against workers being high on the job. The attempt to reverse those protections now, Schauer claimed, is typical of the marijuana industry.

“This is a grab by the industry,” she claimed. “They always ask for more.”

Illinois Senate To Adjourn April 8

Todd Maisch, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said the group agreed not to oppose the bill. But Maisch has concerns.

“Nobody should be happier about this than trial lawyers,” he said. “This is going to lead to litigation, there’s no doubt about it.”

One concern is that research simply hasn’t been able to establish a clear correlation between the amount of THC in a person’s blood stream and the level of impairment. This is almost certainly because experienced users can be relatively unimpaired, even with high THC blood levels.

Employers also would prefer the definition of “safety sensitive jobs” include ancillary duties, such as not just driving a truck, but loading it.

Sponsor Sen. Robert Peters, a Chicago Democrat, is hopeful the Illinois Senate will approve the measure before its scheduled adjournment April 8.

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