A bill in the Wisconsin Legislature would remove THC — the main chemical in marijuana — from employer drug tests in an effort to get more people into Wisconsin’s workforce.
The bill’s author, Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, said people who have participated in the legal consumption of THC in other states should not be discriminated against when applying for a job in Wisconsin.
“There are so many folks who want access to the workforce but know they will not pass a drug test because of something they did months ago,” Bowen said.
Bowen said drug tests are becoming incredibly sensitive. Many of the tests employers use are able to pick up trace amounts of THC left in a prospective employee’s body from months before, Bowen said.
It is, for this reason, Bowen believes employees should not face repercussions for consuming THC months prior to a drug test.
“A harmless substance like marijuana should not disqualify anyone from employment any more than consuming a few beers should,” Bowen said.
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The bill is getting a lot of attention because it affects so many people, Bowen said. While research into how much of the population THC drug testing directly affects is still being conducted, Bowen believes acutely sensitive drug testing impacts a significant number of people.
Bowen said people around the state are having trouble with employment because of drug testing.
“I hear all the time from people who have either not gotten a job because of their drug test results, lost their job because of random drug testing or who have not even bothered to apply for certain jobs because they know they will be drug tested,” Bowen said.
The bill has seen support from marijuana advocacy groups, including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Jay Selthofner, founder of the Northern Wisconsin NORML chapter, said he sees a problem with employers too.
“It seems to me that some employers would rather judge their employees on the results of a drug test rather than the quality of their work,” Selthofner said. “Especially if the employee’s consumption of THC was in a state where marijuana is legal to consume.”
NORML has lobbied for marijuana reform over the years with the help of volunteers and politicians and works to educate the public on marijuana use and its effects.
Bowen said under this bill, employees of certain institutions would not be exempt from THC-free drug test. Under federal law, people operating heavy equipment and machinery, those contracted with the federal government or law enforcement would still be subject to drug tests that apply to all substances, including THC from marijuana and harder drugs.
Bowen has been in favor of marijuana reform and legalization in Wisconsin for a long time but recognizes the process toward legal use of the drug will take time, especially in the current political climate.
With Republicans generally in opposition to any pro-marijuana legislation, seeing a bill like this come to fruition will take a while, Selthofner said.
“Any reform that passes with bipartisan support is a step in the right direction,” Selthofner said. “And even in states where marijuana is legal, drug testing is still an issue.”
Bowen also sees this bill as a step in the right direction for legalizing marijuana in Wisconsin but said before legalization happens, employees should not be penalized in the workplace.
Bowen, though a strong support of marijuana legalization, is more focused on the current issue at hand.
“For me, this is more of a jobs issue,” Bowen said. “I am more concerned with how to protect families, their jobs and their incomes.”