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    Oakland Moves Toward Cannabis Testing Ban

    By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

    At the November 9, 2021, Oakland Public Safety meeting, the Committee voted unanimously to forward the proposed ordinance introduced by me and coauthored by Council President Fortunato Bas, Councilmember Kalb, and Pro Tem Thao, creating a Prohibition Against City Employees Cannabis Metabolites Testing.

    This proposal is not aimed at policies that state that employees should not be impaired at work. Rather, it is to avoid the exclusion or discipline of current and future Oakland City employees based on off-the-job conduct that has no relationship to job performance, and which our city has authorized.

    Currently, the city tests some job applicants and employees for cannabis metabolites. These substances can show in a test for weeks after use, and are not an accurate indication of impairment. New York City and Philadelphia have ordinances that protect all employees, with the exception of federal employees, from cannabis testing. Washington, D.C., and Atlanta have mayoral orders that protect city employees from employer discrimination for off-the-job use of marijuana.

    For many years, Oakland has provided for the permitting and licensing of cannabis facilities for adult use. Given the City of Oakland’s legacy as an innovator in the cannabis space, it is unfortunate that other cities are more progressive when it comes to the issue of testing current and prospective employees for off-the-job cannabis use.

    The City of Oakland is facing a crisis in employee recruitment and retention—with extensive vacancies undermining public services. For every city job that is not filled, there are real world impacts, from trash that is not cleaned to sewer systems not being maintained to permits not being processed. The vacancies of city employees are causing significant harm to our public.

    To exclude, discipline, or eliminate employees based on conduct that is not job-related, and which we have legalized, is not only unjust to the worker directly impacted, but also harms the public and reduces our ability to provide desperately needed public services. Furthermore, it is unjust, and goes against the spirit of our cannabis legalization policies to penalize or exclude employees for cannabis use—as long as they are not impaired or using at work. In addition, cannabis prohibition has been extensively documented to involve dramatic racial disparities, with a disproportionate number of penalties falling overwhelmingly on African Americans.

    I, along with co-sponsors Council members Bas, Kalb and Thao, have the goal to stop the punishment or exclusion for city jobs based on off-the-job conduct that has no relationship to job performance. I was the author of the ordinance allowing for taxation and use of cannabis in the City of Oakland, the first for a U.S. city, which was adopted with over 80% of the vote. Let’s continue our legacy of progressive cannabis policy.

    Councilmember At-Large and Council President Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016 and 2020. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland ( and Facebook (