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California Senate Passes Bill to Modify Marijuana Employment Protections for Law Enforcement

Thanks to a recent law, most workers in California don’t have to worry about using marijuana when they’re off the clock. However, the state Senate recently approved a bill that would roll back some of those legal protections for workers in certain fields, primarily law enforcement officers.

Currently, the law’s protections do not apply to federal workers and employees in the construction and building trades. If the Assembly passes the Senate bill as currently written, several categories of law enforcement officers would be exempt from California’s existing legal protections for off-the-clock cannabis use. Those categories include:

  • Officers involved in apprehending or guarding criminal offenders
  • Officers who handle civil enforcement issues
  • Officers who gather and process evidence in criminal cases
  • Officers who provide coroner functions

State Sen. Shannon Grove, a Republican from the state’s 12th District, sponsored the bill and says it’s necessary because of the sensitive work law enforcement officials perform in these jobs.

“This is the same exemption that the building trades and construction trades currently have in statute,” Grove said ahead of the Senate’s most recent vote on the bill. “The work of both of these professions is important and has important implications for the public’s safety. Peace officers are expected to overcome intense physical challenges and make split-second decisions in life-or-death situations and these responsibilities are generally incompatible with the effects of cannabis use.”

While law enforcement organizations like the California State Sheriffs’ Association and California Police Chiefs Association support the bill, others are not so happy about it. Labor groups like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the California School Employees Association, and the California Employment Lawyers Association have all come out against the bill. Other groups opposed to the bill include California NORML and the Drug Policy Alliance.

“We have major concerns with this bill even in its amended condition,” said Kristin Heidelbach, a cannabis workforce development advisor and legislative advocate for UFCW, “because we feel that what this does is carve out a huge group of workers [and] that, next year, we’re going to be fighting another group of workers, and the following year we could be carving out another group of workers.”

Heidelbach said UFCW had particular concerns about the bill’s potential impact on minority workers.

“I’ve watched multiple workers harassed or discriminated against…or threatened with a cannabis test,” she said of her 13 years in a labor union. “Our black and brown brothers and sisters are disproportionately impacted by this, because they are subject to higher rates of testing.”

Multiple Drug Reform Measures Pending in Legislature

The Senate bill concerning legal protections for off-the-clock cannabis use is just one of many drug reform measures currently working their way through the Legislature.

For instance, the State Assembly recently passed a measure allowing aspiring entrepreneurs to build and operate “cannabis cafes” throughout the state. The bill allows licensed businesses to let customers consume cannabis on-site and also non-cannabis foods and non-alcoholic drinks. The cafes could also host live events, such as concerts, with permission from local governments.

While California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a similar bill in October 2023, Assemblymember Matt Haney, who sponsored the new bill, said the measure is vital to help struggling small businesses grow and find new revenue streams.

“The illicit illegal market is continuing to grow and thrive while our legal cannabis market is struggling,” Haney said of the revised cannabis cafe bill. “Small businesses and local governments that want to authorize simply allowing existing cannabis lounges—which already exist in law—to be able to serve food should be able to do so.”

While Haney’s bill aims to expand access to cannabis, similar measures have struggled in the Legislature. Earlier in May 2024, the state Senate effectively killed a bill that would have legalized service centers where adults 21 and older could use psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, MDMA, and DMT in supervised environments with trained facilitators.

“It’s disappointing for this bill not to move forward. Psychedelics have massive promise in helping people heal and get their lives back on track,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, who sponsored the measure. “It makes enormous sense for California to lead in creating regulated access under the supervision of a licensed professional. I’m highly committed to this issue, and we’ll continue to work on expanding access to psychedelics.”

DEA Moves to Reschedule Marijuana at Federal Level

While drug reform has been a mixed bag recently at the state level in California, a recent proposal by the Biden Administration could have nationwide implications for cannabis users.

According to news reports, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has recently taken steps to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Moving cannabis from Schedule I, which includes drugs with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” to a less restrictive category like Schedule III could pave the way for federal legalization of cannabis.

There’s still a long way to go before federal legalization, however. Before the DEA can reschedule cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) must review the proposed rule change. If the OMB signs off on the change, there would be a period of public comments, and an administrative law judge would have to review the proposal.

Regardless of these bureaucratic hurdles, the DEA’s actions mark a significant shift in drug policy at the federal government level. The Department of Health and Human Services has said it supports rescheduling marijuana, and such a move would likely make it easier for lawmakers to support a bill decriminalizing or legalizing recreational marijuana use.

Furthermore, it appears the DEA’s proposal has the full backing of the Biden Administration. President Biden has issued several sweeping pardons for federal drug offenders in recent years and has encouraged state governors to do the same.

For more information on the latest cannabis news, along with fun recipes and important educational resources, keep reading Cannabutter Digest.

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