City Council Committee Votes Unanimously to End Drug Testing of Prospective Employees

Medical cannabis grown for commercial sale in Lesotho (Emma Vickers/NY City Lens)

Medical cannabis grown for commercial sale in Lesotho (Emma Vickers/NY City Lens)

New York City Council’s Committee on Civil and Human Rights  voted unanimously Monday for a new city law that will prohibit drug testing by employers. The law specifically seeks to prevent employers requiring prospective employees to submit to testing for THC, the active drug in marijuana, as part of pre-hiring screening. The law will now be sent to the full council for a vote.

The committee vote followed a December commitment by New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo that marijuana would be fully legalized as part of his 2019 agenda. Mayor Bill De Blasio has also endorsed cannabis legalization in New York City.

In his opening statement, Committee Chair Mathieu Eugene explained the importance of the law in the context of growing calls for legalization in New York and beyond. “Unlike alcohol or other recreational drugs, the active ingredients in marijuana can linger in the system for weeks,” he said. “This potentially leaves New Yorkers vulnerable to failing a work related marijuana drug test even if they were legally consuming marijuana.”

Medical marijuana, as opposed to recreational use marijuana, is already legal in New York state, and over 96,000 patients are registered to access the drug, according to the state’s Department of Health.

“What we’re trying to prevent is that some people get punished for doing what the legislation allows them to do,” Eugene continued.

Marijuana prohibition has disproportionately affected some communities in New York, according to a February 2018 report released by John Jay College of Justice, and referenced by the committee. The report found that racial disparities persisted in arrests for marijuana charges over the last two decades.

And it’s not just arrests. Clyde Thomson is a community worker in the Claremont neighborhood of the Bronx, where 93 percent of the population identify as black or Latino. Many in his community use marijuana and he believes drug testing has kept young people from the neighborhood from accessing jobs, he told NY City Lens in an interview in February.

“You can’t pick up trash in the city of New York without a high school diploma and a drug test,” he said.

The move to legalize marijuana has slowed in New York in recent weeks. In a March speech on the 2019 budget, Cuomo said that marijuana would not be included in this year’s state revenue, and would instead be rolled over to the next budget period, suggesting a delay in legalization beyond 2019. And a vote in to legalize in New Jersey was recently canceled after lawmakers failed to be assured of enough votes in its favor.

Despite this, Ben Kallos, a Democratic council member for East Harlem and the Upper East Side, who voted in favor of the new city law, remained positive about the prospects of legalization in New York City.

“We’re going to legalize marijuana and people should not be penalized for using it,” he said. “It’s common sense.”