The St. Louis County Council voted last week to end cannabis drug screenings for most county employees, a move that comes as Missouri lawmakers consider legislation to legalize recreational pot statewide.
Under the bill approved by the St. Louis council last week, the county would be banned from requiring drug screenings for cannabis as a condition of employment, except for workers in safety-sensitive positions. The legislation includes pre-employment drug tests as well as random screenings for current public employees.
“No person currently employed by St. Louis County or applying for employment by St. Louis County shall be required to undergo pre-employment or random drug testing for the presence of marijuana metabolites (THC) as a condition or part of employment,” the text of the bill states. The measure includes exceptions for employees who operate heavy machinery or vehicles, law enforcement officers, and those in positions with federal drug testing requirements.
The measure sponsored by 5th District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy was passed by the county council along party lines on March 8. Council members Kelli Dunaway, Shalonda Webb, and Rita Days joined fellow Democrat Clancy with votes in favor of the bill, while Republicans Ernie Trakas, Tim Fitch, and Mark Harder voted against the measure. A spokesman for County Executive Sam Page told reporters that he intends to sign the measure into law.
“People who legally use marijuana for medical purposes shouldn’t be discriminated against AND this policy will remove a barrier to recruitment and hiring,” Clancy wrote on Twitter after the council passed the measure. “That’s why I sponsored and passed this bill.”
St. Louis Cannabis Industry and Activists Support Bill
The cannabis industry group MoCannTrade praised the measure passed by the St. Louis County Council to restrict cannabis screenings of public employees.
“We applaud the STL County Council on the passage of a bill that would end marijuana testing for prospective county employees accepting law enforcement, federal contractors, or other ‘safety-sensitive’ positions,” MoCannTrade said in a statement on social media.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) noted in a statement that the action from the St. Louis County Council to restrict cannabis screenings for public employees followed the passage of a similar measure by the city council in Kansas City last year. City lawmakers in Atlanta, Baltimore, and Philadelphia have also enacted ordinances to restrict drug testing of public employees, and last week the New Orleans City Council advanced a similar proposal.
Efforts to limit cannabis screenings by private employers are being made at the state level, with Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Montana enacting legislation to limit companies’ use of pre-employment drug tests for cannabis.
“These decisions by state and municipal officials reflect today’s changing cultural landscape, particularly as it pertains to marijuana,” NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “These suspicionless drug testing policies were never evidence-based and have always been discriminatory. They are relics of the failed ‘war on drugs’ policies of the 1980s and it is time that we move beyond them.”
Pending Bill Would Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis
Missouri voters legalized the medical use of cannabis statewide with a ballot measure passed by voters in 2018. And last month, Republican state Representative Ron Hicks introduced the Cannabis Freedom Act, a bill that would legalize recreational weed. If passed, the bill would legalize cannabis for use by adults, regulate recreational cannabis commerce, and expunge convictions for past cannabis-related offenses. In a statement, Hicks acknowledged the assistance from stakeholders and an Oklahoma state lawmaker in drafting the legislation.
“The Cannabis Freedom Act is the product of input from many different stakeholders including members of law enforcement and those who have endured incarceration for conduct that society now deems acceptable,” Hicks said. “I am particularly grateful for input from Oklahoma State Representative Scott Fetgatter for his assistance in creating a free market program that is also strictly regulated.”
The Cannabis Freedom Act is supported by cannabis activists including Christina Thompson of ShowMe Canna-Freedom. She told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the legislation is preferable to a proposed voter initiative that would “give current medical marijuana businesses the first shot at full recreational sales and keep in place the state’s ability to limit licenses.”
“This initiative (Legal Missouri 2022) eliminates nearly all competition through constitutionally protected license caps,” Thompson said. “Recreational licenses created under the initiative will go straight to established businesses as well, meaning instead of opening up more business opportunities for others; money only goes to those who are already profiting.”
“The lack of competition and artificially inflated prices fuel the black market,” Thompson added. “Millions in lost revenue for our state is instead funding drug cartels, human trafficking and more while desperate patients are victimized.”