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Pittsburgh City Council to consider prohibiting drug testing for medical marijuana card holders

PITTSBURGH — With statewide lawmakers considering legalizing recreational marijuana, Pittsburgh lawmakers are looking to enact legislation that would prevent medical marijuana patients from having to pass a drug test.

Council member Barb Warwick introduced legislation Tuesday morning that, if passed, would mean employers cannot test for marijuana use if the employee has a prescription for it.

“The majority of patients participating and who have access to medical marijuana program are doing so due to various serious qualifying medical conditions,” Theresa Nightingale, the community outreach coordinator for Cresco Labs, a medical marijuana company said during a news conference Tuesday. “They’re not doing this just because they like to be high [but] because they're truly honestly sick.”

Some employers make passing a drug test for cannabis a hiring contingency, which for people with medical marijuana prescriptions can create “wholly unnecessary barriers,” Warwick said.

“Medical marijuana cardholders in Pittsburgh have taken the time to secure legal permission from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to use it to treat a medical condition,” she said. “Excluding them from employment opportunities because of that is wrong.”

Medical marijuana has been legal in Pennsylvania since 2016. In 2018, the city of Pittsburgh decriminalized possession of a small amount of the drug. As of 2021, there are 21 qualified conditions that patients can receive medical marijuana for including things such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis.

It is “unjust, archaic and extremely discriminatory to deny a claim based on their medical conditions,” Nightingale said. “It's not just cannabis, it's their medical decisions.”

Employees who work in a position where they are required to carry a firearm or if they are subject to drug testing under the U.S. The Department of Transportation or the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation would still be required to pass a drug test.

Employers will also be able to prevent the employee from doing tasks that may be deemed life-threatening if they are under the influence of marijuana.

The new legislation also includes measures that say employees cannot consume marijuana at the workplace.

Warwick said that she worked with some local labor unions and the Master Builders Association, a trade organization for contractors and construction industry workers, to work out some of the limitations of the bill so that workers remain safe on the job.

The legislation also allows for employers to conduct a drug test if they suspect the employee is under the influence at work or if a workplace accident occurs. Testing for the use of other illegal controlled substances will still be allowed.

Once passed, which could come as early as the end of July, the legislation will be enforced by the city's Commission on Human Relations.

Shortly after the city decriminalized possession of a small amount of marijuana, the Pittsburgh Firefighters union worked to make it so that their members could use medical marijuana and still be able to work as a city firefighter.

Firefighters are at an increased risk for some of the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use, including cancer, and post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorders, union President Ralph Sicuro said Tuesday morning.

“We recognize the importance of alternative alternative medication treatments and support rights to our firefighters to access the benefits of medical marijuana within the framework of the law,” Sicuro said.

Council members will further discuss the legislation next week.

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