Allied Association Blog: Cal NORML Fights Ongoing Discrimination That Hurts Cannabis Businesses in California
By Bethany Moore
February 24, 2022
/ Community
/ Education

Allied Association Blog: Cal NORML Fights Ongoing Discrimination That Hurts Cannabis Businesses in California

By Ellen Komp, California NORML

Assemblymember Bill Quirk has introduced two bills sponsored by California NORML in this year’s legislative session that address ongoing human rights issues that are stumbling blocks for industry.

A pair of online surveys being conducted by California NORML is finding that up to 33% of respondents have been denied employment due to testing positive for cannabis, 19% have been denied prescription drugs by their doctor due to cannabis use, and up to 60% have stopped using cannabis because of drug testing by their employer or doctor.

This means as many as half of businesses’ potential customers aren’t buying cannabis products in California because of current laws. In addition, many Californians report they are underemployed because of their cannabis use, giving them less purchasing power at cannabis retailers. 

The first bill to remedy this situation is AB 2188, which would end discrimination based on cannabis metabolites testing by California employers.

Testing or threatening to test bodily fluids for cannabis metabolites is the most common way that employers harass and discriminate against employees who lawfully use cannabis off the job. Cannabis metabolites are the non-psychoactive substances that can be detected in a person’s bodily fluids (mainly, urine and hair) for up to several weeks after they have consumed cannabis. 

Testing positive for cannabis metabolites has no scientific value in establishing that a person is impaired on the job. When employers use cannabis metabolites tests to discriminate against employees or prospective employees, they are most likely discriminating against people who consumed cannabis when they were not at work.

Five other states (NV, NY, NJ, CT & MT) have passed laws in recent years protecting adult-use cannabis users’ employment rights, and 21 states protect those rights for medical marijuana users. Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Atlanta also protect the rights of workers in their cities who use cannabis. 

As in other states, the proposed California bill has exemptions for employers who are required to follow federal drug-testing mandates. Assemblymember Quirk’s bill does not bar employers from requiring that employees not be impaired on the job, and it does not prohibit other forms of testing, such as performance-based impairment testing or testing for THC, which may establish that a person has consumed cannabis in the past several hours. 

Studies have shown that off-the-job cannabis use is not positively associated with elevated rates of occupational accidents or injuries, and that liberalized cannabis laws are associated greater labor participation, lower rates of absenteeism, declines in workers’ compensation filings, and higher wages.

The cities of Oakland and San Francisco have passed resolutions in favor of the employment rights bill’s language, and Cal NORML has been busy reaching out to unions and other stakeholders for support.

The second Cal NORML-sponsored bill to benefit California cannabis consumers — and the industry — is AB 1954, which seeks to protect the right of patients to medical treatment if they use medical cannabis, and the right of physicians and clinics to treat them. 

Many physicians are under the mistaken impression that they can’t prescribe medication to patients who test positive for cannabis. The Quirk bill would clarify that physicians cannot be punished for treating patients who use medical cannabis, notwithstanding its illicit status under federal law.

A great many studies have shown cannabis is effective for pain and can help patients reduce their use of opiates. Cal NORML’s survey shows that 24-30% of respondents have increased their use of opiates or other medications due to drug testing by their doctor or employer. With an opiate overdose crisis continuing to affect California, we need to end policies that drive patients to use more dangerous and addictive drugs. 

In Cal NORML’s membership polling, we have found that tax reduction is the #1 issue among our members. We are following and acting on 30-40 bills this year, including the various tax reform bills and other business-oriented proposals that have been introduced in the CA legislature this year, from a consumer rights standpoint.  

Cal NORML has begun a Capital Campaign aimed at cannabis companies who do business in California to take us over the finish line on these important bills in 2022. We also offer business memberships with many perks, including discounts on NCIA memberships. We are always interested in hearing from our business members on how we can work together for cannabis consumers’ rights in California. 

Ellen Komp is the Deputy Director of California NORML. Founded in 1972, Cal NORML is a non-profit, member-supported organization dedicated to reforming California’s marijuana laws. As the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, we lobby lawmakers, promote events, publish newsletters, offer legal and consumer health advice, and sponsor scientific research. Check out our website at


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