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Amendment Narrows Scope Of California Bill To Remove Marijuana Employment Protections For Law Enforcement

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A California Senate panel this week narrowed the scope of a bill that would roll back existing employment protections for people who legally use marijuana while away from work. The revised measure, which advanced out of the committee on a 3–1 vote, would now remove those protections only for sworn law enforcement positions that involve certain specified duties.

The bill, SB 1264, from Sen. Shannon Grove (R), was initially introduced in February as a minor technical fix to the employment protection law, which took effect at the beginning of this year and prevents employers for discriminating against workers for pre-hire or off-the-clock marijuana use. But last month, the measure was significantly amended to roll back those protections for a wide range of public service jobs, including not only police and sheriffs’ deputies but also positions in animal control, law enforcement communications and public administration.

Under the new amendment adopted in the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee on Wednesday, the revised bill would remove the nondiscrimination protections for only five categories of sworn law enforcement employees: those involved in the apprehension, incarceration or correction of criminal offenders; those who handle civil enforcement matters; workers involved in evidence gathering and processing; and those providing coroner functions.

The amended measure now proceeds to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“When we introduced the bill, it was not my intent to wrap up anybody who was not a sworn officer,” Grove, who welcomed the changes, said at the committee hearing. “I just really do believe, from the depths of my soul, that law enforcement should be held to a higher standard because of the duties that they perform. We already have issues out there with law enforcement, and we don’t want to make those things worse.”

“Peace officers are expected to overcome intense physical challenges and make split-second decisions in life and death situations, and those responsibilities are generally incompatible with the effects of cannabis use,” she added. “This bill narrowly is drawn to provide targeted exemptions for just those sworn law enforcement applicants and employees who are or would be undertaking duties directly related to law enforcement.”

The legislation has the support law enforcement groups, such as the California State Sheriffs’ Association and the California Police Chiefs Association, but is broadly opposed by labor unions in the state.

Cory Salzillo, a lobbyist for the California State Sheriffs’ Association, said the bill would provide needed clarity on whether law enforcement agencies can test applicants and workers for cannabis.

“We believed we were exempt under the language of that bill,” Salzillo said of the employment protection bill that took effect in January. “And since its passage and implementation and some more refined legal analysis, there is a little bit less clarity than we initially had. So we think this is a very targeted exemption.”

Opponents, meanwhile, include labor groups such as the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW); the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); the California School Employees Association; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and the California Employment Lawyers Association.

Drug advocacy groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and California NORML also oppose the rollback bill.

Kristin Heidelbach, a cannabis workforce development advisor and legislative advocate for UFCW, said the union is worried the change could lead to a slippery slope.

“We have major concerns with this bill even in its amended condition,” she said, “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.”

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

Even under existing law, “two facts remain,” she added: “You cannot be under the influence of cannabis and go to work. Nothing in current law allows that. Additionally, you have the right to test your workers now.”

Committee member Sen. John Laird (D) said he thought the amended bill struck an appropriate balance.

“I always have a tough time with the slippery slope argument, because this seems like the right thing to do for this,” he said. “There were very animated discussions between the committee and the author, and I think both gave on things that they didn’t want to give on to get to the point of having amendments that the committee was comfortable with.”

Sen. Lola Smallwood Cuevas (D) said that “voters voted for Prop. 64, and it is now part of our society,” referring to the state’s marijuana legalization law.

“We’ve got to figure out the ways in which we integrate cannabis into our workplaces,” she said. We have to protect workers, particularly when we’re talking about an activity that is now illegal, and at some point we’re going to have to bring employers and unions and community together to figure this this piece out.”

“We just want to make sure people are not high at work,” she added, “but we don’t want to know what they did last weekend.”

While Smallwood Cuevas said she thought the bill should require the use of saliva swabs, which she said was a more accurate test of recent use, but overall said that she believed “we have to hold police who are armed accountable. And with that, I’m going to let the bill move forward today.”

Meanwhile in California, a second Senate committee approved a bill this week that would legalize psychedelic service centers where adults 21 and older could access psilocybin, MDMA, mescaline and DMT in a supervised environment with trained facilitators.

That bill, the Regulated Therapeutic Access to Psychedelics Act, has been drafted in a way intended to be responsive to concerns voiced by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) last year when he vetoed a broader proposal that included provisions to legalize low-level possession of substances such as psilocybin.


Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Assemblymember Marie Waldron (R), the lead on the Assembly side, is sponsoring a separate psychedelics bill focused on promoting research and creating a framework for the possibility of regulated therapeutic access that has already moved through the Assembly this year with unanimous support.

Separately, a California campaign to put psilocybin legalization on the state’s November ballot recently announced that it did not secure enough signature to qualify in time for a deadline.

Another campaign filed and then abruptly withdrew an initiative to create a $5 billion state agency tasked with funding and promoting psychedelics research last year.

A third campaign also entered the mix late last year, proposing to legalize the possession and cultivation of substances like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline. People could buy them for therapeutic use with a doctor’s recommendation. Advocates for that measure still have time to gather and turn in signatures.

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) has since released its review of that proposal, outlining not only the plan’s policy implications but also its potential fiscal impacts on the state—which the report calls “various” and “uncertain.”

Some California municipalities, meanwhile, are pushing forward with reform on the local level. The city of Eureka, for example, adopted a resolution in October to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi and make enforcement of laws against personal use, cultivation and possession a low priority for police. It’s at least the fifth local jurisdiction in the state to embrace the policy change. Others include San FranciscoOaklandSanta Cruz and Arcata.

State officials last month also awarded $12 million in marijuana tax-funded grants to cities across the state to support equity programs for people disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

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