Tuesday, May 26

Tabatha Lewis: UCLA employees should be able to use recreational marijuana

(Sarah Goldacker/Daily Bruin)

Marijuana may be legal in California, but depending on your luck, UCLA could fire you for using or even just possessing it.

Earlier this year, California made it legal for adults age 21 or over to use and possess marijuana in the state, following the passage of Proposition 64 in 2016. Under the proposition, adults can use marijuana in a private residence or specially licensed business, provided they are not operating a vehicle. However, this proposition does not obligate employers to allow their employees to use or possess weed.

Consequently, UCLA Health screens employees suspected of being under the influence of alcohol and drugs, including marijuana. Prospective UCLA Health employees are required to sign a contract, which states the purpose of any of the university’s drug tests is to determine if employees are under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. By signing the contract, employees agree to provide urine samples for drug tests under the supervision of UCLA Health medical personnel. Employees also agree to not hold UCLA accountable for ramifications due to the test.

These drug tests are meant to determine if employees are under the influence at work. UCLA said in a statement any employee suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including marijuana, while at work is subject to drug screening. The statement added that a positive drug test is a violation of UCLA Health policy.

However, there’s a possibility an employer might wrongly suspect an employee is under the influence of drugs while at work. Drug testing such an employee may produce a positive, risking the employee’s job, even if they were not under the influence while at work. This can occur because marijuana can show up positive in a urine sample for up to and over seven days after someone has smoked it, and even longer for regular marijuana users. This is different from a test for alcohol consumption, which only shows positive if an employee is currently intoxicated because of how quickly alcohol leaves the body.

UCLA Health said its policy is consistent with federal policy on marijuana, which makes it illegal to purchase, possess or use the substance. However, UCLA Health said it is not obligated to follow the federal policy on marijuana. If an employee smokes marijuana on the weekend in a state where recreational marijuana is legal, they should not have to risk losing their job.

UCLA must adopt policies consistent with state, not federal, law. Marijuana should not be taken into consideration when UCLA screens an employee, unless the university can prove the employee was under the influence of marijuana while at work. Proof can take the form of video footage or repeated concerns reported by other employees to managers.

It’s reasonable that UCLA should be able to check if its employees are under the influence while on the job, but smoking outside of work does not necessarily affect an employee’s ability to effectively do their job. Yet the current policy implies as such, since it tests for marijuana usage and imposes disciplinary action for positive drug tests, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the examination. This means there’s a risk an employee might lose their job if they were mistakenly tested when not under the influence, but still have marijuana in their system from previous use.

Possession of marijuana while at work is also prohibited for UCLA Health employees, according to UCLA’s drug-free workplace policy. Though it is odd for an employee to carry around marijuana on their person while in a work setting, it isn’t illegal. Carrying around marijuana is no different than carrying around a pack of cigarettes at work: As long as you do not smoke it, it should not be prohibited.

UCLA Health needs to re-evaluate its pre-employment contract. Employees should be able to use cannabis recreationally in their free time without fear of losing their jobs. Making them sign away their rights to dispute the results of drug tests shows the university doesn’t consider the circumstances of employees’ drug use, only whether they use drugs.

This does not mean employees should be able to work under the influence of marijuana, just like they shouldn’t be able to show up drunk. However, using marijuana when off duty does not necessarily affect the employee’s ability to do their job.

Marijuana is legal in California, and UCLA needs to accept that.

Opinion columnist | News contributor

Lewis is an Opinion columnist and News contributor.

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