Pot-smoking job seekers: Some discrimination protection

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RENO, NV (KOLO) It may have seemed a simple choice as voters went to the polls in 2016--a yes or no vote legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

Wiser minds knew, however, that creating a brand new legal industry from a formerly illegal activity would be complicated. In fact, state and local governments are still adjusting, feeling their way as they go.

Now it's other businesses' turn. The issue is potential job discrimination against job-seeking pot users. As Kiera Sears of the local Joey Gilbert Law Firm says, not everyone is ready for the change.

"There's still a stigma around cannabis, even though it is legal for medical and recreational use."

So, the concern of some in the legislature was whether those Nevadans using marijuana, now a legal activity, would be denied employment by companies that require pre-employment drug tests.

Assembly Bill 132 was introduced to address the issue. Its aim was to prevent employers denying job applicants based on those tests or an admission of marijuana use. And it passed with a provision for a redo of a positive result, at the applicant's expense and exemptions for some safety-sensitive occupations, such as firefighters, police, commercial truck drivers.

It doesn't prevent an employer from turning down someone for other reasons.

If that sounds like we should expect lawsuits, you've been paying attention.

"I did a pre-employment screening test and I tested positive and I didn't get the job," says Sears. "Then it becomes a legal issue of finding out why did the employer not hire this person?"

And so our accommodation to legal marijuana is still a work in progress, much of that work likely to take place in the courts. In the meantime her advice to employers:

"Really work on your employment manual and really have a clear understanding that you can get to your employees so they understand your boundaries."

And to job seekers:

"Be respectful. Nevada has given people the opportunity to participate in the consumption of marijuana and that's a privilege. We've gone against the federal government and we should not take that for granted."

The law takes effect January 1, 2020.

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