On May 29th, and again on August 29th, California lawmakers passed a bill entitled Assembly Bill 2188 protecting workers’ rights to use marijuana off-duty. The new bill would bar employers from taking disciplinary action against employees who test positive for THC in a drug screening. This is because even though the worker may not be presently inebriated, THC may still show up in hair and urine samples for up to 30 days after the last usage.
The bill will not prevent punishment from tests that are more reliable at determining if a person is currently high, such as a saliva test. Another exception in the bill is that it does not apply to companies that need to perform drug tests to secure federal funding, or to those in the building and construction business. Governor Newsom has until the end of September to sign this bill into law, which would amend anti-discrimination laws and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). FEHA already protects residents from housing and employment discrimination based on race, gender identity, sexuality, disability, etc. California is the 7th state to have such a bill.
Marijuana is fully legal in 18 states, however, if this bill gets passed there will only be seven states that have protections for workers to use off-duty. In California, felony arrests for marijuana persisted but began declining rapidly. According to data gathered by California Norml, an organization that advocates for cannabis users’ rights, felony marijuana arrests declined from 1,617 in 2018, to 1,181 in 2019, and 1,027 in 2020. The organization also pointed out that Black and Hispanic populations are being disproportionately arrested for marijuana crimes.
Even though marijuana is legal to use recreationally, charges against you can still happen. During a traffic stop, an officer needs probable cause to search your vehicle. Probable cause is legally defined as “sufficient reason based upon known facts to believe a crime has been committed or that certain property is connected with a crime”. This can be an odor of marijuana, if they visibly see some sort of marijuana or paraphernalia, or if they suspect you may be under the influence.
Federally, marijuana is still illegal. A first offense of any amount of marijuana, or any type of marijuana product, is punishable by up to one year in prison, and a max fine of 1,000 dollars. Your second offense lands you in prison for a minimum of 15 days and up to 2 years. Any subsequent offense lands you a minimum of 30 days in prison and up to 5 years. All these counts as misdemeanor offenses.
In California, according to data by Norml.org, a person over the age of 21 can have one ounce of marijuana for legal personal use. A 21-and-over person may also grow 6 plants for personal use. Medical patients can be in possession of 8 ounces of marijuana (specifically dried cannabis flower), 12 immature plants, or six mature plants for personal use. It is a misdemeanor to be in possession of 28.5 grams or more, which converts to ≈1.005308 ounces. This can be punishable with a 500 dollar fine and up to six months detention center time.
If you are caught in possession of more than 28.5 grams, you could be charged with intent to distribute. Intent to distribute is still a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in a detention center and up to a 500-dollar fine. Police can prove intent to distribute with circumstantial evidence, like if the person has: more than one bag or container of marijuana, large quantities of it; more than the officer believes one person could consume, marijuana in packing supplies like tape, baggies, boxes, a scale, if the marijuana was found with a firearm and/or a large amount of cash, or if the suspect was arrested in an area known for high drug activity.
To clarify, no one ever has the legal right to be inebriated while operating a vehicle or at work. Furthermore, areas designated as no smoking also apply to smoking cannabis, and spaces where you cannot be drunk, chances are you can not be high either.
Featured Photo Courtsey of DAD GRASS / UNSPLASH