California Spikes Proposed Workplace Marijuana Protections

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California lawmakers on Friday shelved legislation that would have offered employment protections to qualified medical marijuana users.

The bill died without debate in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Advocates had sought to bring California in line with a handful of other marijuana-legal states that require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to medical cannabis users so long as the employees don’t come to work impaired or cause an undue hardship on business operations.

The bill, AB 2069, faced opposition from businesses and trade groups, including the state Chamber of Commerce, drug-tester Quest Diagnostics and the Personal Insurance Federation of California. They argued that the proposed worker protections were too broad and threatened employers’ statutory authority to maintain a drug-free workplace.

California employers still enjoy broad discretion to make hiring and firing decisions based on their workers’ now-legal marijuana use. The state Supreme Court in 2008 held in Ross v. RagingWire Telecommunications that businesses are not required to accommodate medical cannabis users.

The Legislature decided the fate of several other marijuana-regulating bills on Friday. Here’s the latest:

➤➤  AB 3157, which would have temporarily reduced the 15 percent cannabis excise tax to 11 percent and suspended a by-the-ounce cultivation tax, also died in the appropriations committee. The bill was an effort to encourage more black-market marijuana operators to get licensed. Lower-than-projected tax revenues suggest some growers are shunning the new regulatory system.

Although the bill sailed out of two policy committees with bipartisan support, the appropriations committee on Friday rejected numerous bills offering tax cuts and tax credits.

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, said in an email that the state’s illicit cannabis market will continue to thrive “until legal businesses are put on a more level playing field. The next round of state tax collection numbers will be released in early August and that will be a time to reassess whether the current system is working.”

➤➤ Legislation to create a closed-loop, state marijuana banking system survived a spending committee vote. SB 930 would allow limited-charter banks and credit unions to accept deposits from marijuana businesses and to provide restricted check-writing ability for those customers, who are typically shunned by traditional banks.

➤➤  Lawmakers also approved a bill to allow cannabis operations to deduct business expenses from their state taxes in the same way other companies do. That practice is banned at the federal level, creating a major tax expense for cannabis businesses in marijuana-legal states. The bill is sponsored by the California Cannabis Industry Association.