Many states in the USA have legalized cannabis for medical and recreational purposes,.
But under federal law, it remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act and the cultivation, possession, use and sale of marijuana remains prohibited.
That’s why even in California, which has perhaps the most liberal approach to marijuana, state workers could still get fired if they tested positive for THC (the psychoactive ingredient within cannabis) in drugs tests.
However a decision by California State Personnel Board (SPB) may have changed that going forward.
The ruling, made in March but only recently come to light, determined that urine samples do not accurately reflect whether an employee is under the influence of cannabis while at work, and placed limits on employers using positive cannabis drug tests to discipline state workers.
In this case a CalTrans Highway Maintenance Worker, submitted to a drug test upon his return to duty after an extended leave of absence. The urine test revealed the presence of THC, establishing that he had, at some prior point in time, inhaled or ingested marijuana or a marijuana-infused substance.
The worker was sacked, but appealed to the SPB and won.
In their ruling the SPB noted that it was not in a position to comment on whether marijuana use was a good or bad thing, because “the voters have spoken and legalized it in the State of California.” As such the SPB went on, state agencies don’t have the power to discipline an employee whose test indicates that “marijuana had been ingested or used sometime in the past [but who] was not under the influence of marijuana while on duty.”
The board further acknowledged that the behaviour of the employee in questions was “no different from the personal consumption of wine, beer, or other alcoholic beverages.”
However, the SPB ruling does clarify that the decision neither covers federal government employees or federal contractors in California, nor law enforcement officers.