Article: New York City Council Would Limit Pre-Hire Cannabis Tests

The New York City Council has passed two bills that, if signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, would cut back on testing for marijuana use persons seeking employment, parole or probation, becoming the content for the New York City Drug Testing Law.

One measure (Intro. No. 1445), approved on April 9, would forbid most New York City employers to require jobseekers to undergo drug testing for marijuana use. The bill’s main sponsor, Public Advocate Jamaane Williams, noted the Council’s support for marijuana legalization (it passed a resolution in March calling on the state to legalize adult recreational use), and argued it made “absolutely no sense” to penalize job seekers for cannabis use.

As passed by the City Council, the first measure to compose the New York City drug testing law would be added to the city’s Fair Chance Act, which bars most employers from inquiring into the criminal history of job applicants who have received conditional employment offers.

The bill would not cover: construction site workers; police, other law enforcers or criminal investigators; workers required to have a commercial driver’s license; workers caring for or supervising children, persons with disabilities, or medical patients; workers in jobs city regulations define as having a significant effect on safety and health; jobs tied to federal or state contracts or grants requiring drug testing; or workers under collectively-bargained drug testing agreements. The measure would likewise not bar testing of workers suspected of marijuana use while on the job. The employment-related bill of the future New York City drug testing law would take effect a year after its final enactment.

The City Council also passed another bill (Intro. No. 1427) that would restrict drug testing of persons seeking probation or parole, which would take effect on enactment. Backers of the measure maintained such testing was common but unneeded, and represented a barrier to reintegration back into society. The chairman of the City Council committee which cleared the bill called requiring marijuana drug testing for parolees and probationers a “trap door.” He also said five ex-commissioners of the state’s Department of Probation and a former New York State Chief Judge supported that policy change.

Both the city’s pre-hire and probation and parole bills reflect an effort by city officials to reduce the legal impact of marijuana use. While marijuana possession and use remain illegal in the state and city (except for authorized medical uses), city police and prosecutors have stopped enforcing minor marijuana offenses.

In addition, the New York City Council is considering a resolution to expunge all marijuana misdemeanor convictions from city records. In four years before New York City decriminalized low-level marijuana offenses, city police recorded more than 78,000 marijuana possession arrests.

Mayor de Blasio is expected to approve both measures, although Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who earlier announced he planned to see a marijuana legalization plan enacted within the first 100 days of his new term, has seen that plan stall, as it was not added to his budget legislation for this year.

Besides cautions from some medical and safety experts that much is unknown about possible long-term health effects of marijuana use, one unanticipated obstacle was a dispute among some past supporters over how state revenues, estimated at $300 million annually, would be used. Cuomo proposed to use it for mass transit, but some African-American legislators said they’d oppose legalization unless funds went to areas whose residents had been harmed by marijuana laws.

About the Author

Scott J. Limmer is a New York criminal attorney practicing primarily in Nassau, Suffolk, and Queens counties. You can contact Scott anytime. He is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round and your initial consultation is free.