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Columbia to end marijuana testing for city job applicants next month

The image shows several green marijuana plants.
Jeff W.
Beginning Oct. 1, job applicants will no longer have to be tested for marijuana to potentially work for the city.

Pre-employment marijuana testing for city employment applicants will be cast aside Oct. 1, city officials announced at a City Council meeting Monday.

This comes after a four-year collective bargaining agreement with the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 955, which represents Columbia’s service and maintenance workers.

“The most clear (reasoning) is that it’s legal,” Andrew Hutchinson, a union representative, said. “There’s no reason to continue to waste time and thin the pool of applicants when it’s a legal, recreational or medicinal drug.”

The council agreed to “modify the drug and alcohol policy to remove marijuana from pre-employment drug testing for non-safety sensitive positions,” said City Human Resources Director Kathy Baker. This excludes those who are subject to the Department of Transportation’s regulations or are uniformed police and fire personnel.

“We also wanted individuals who test positive for marijuana usage who are in the (commercial driver’s license) programs to not be fired when they test positive a second time, but to be suspended and then demoted to a non-CDL required position,” Hutchinson said.

Originally, the result of a positive drug test was a five-year blacklist from city employment. In the new agreement, any applicant who tested positive for marijuana only as pre-employment from the date it became legal in Missouri on Dec. 8, 2022, will be removed from the blacklist.

“(The five-year ban) is based on guidance from the federal government for DOT positions,” Baker said. “Our existing policy for non-DOT positions mirrors the DOT regulation.”

These barred applicants will be re-eligible beginning Oct. 1.

“The issue is that if you had tested positive the year before, you’re still on that five-year ban,” Hutchinson said. “So there’s still a pretty big swath of workers that have applied for the city, tested positive for weed, didn’t have a medical card and can’t work for the city for years.”

As of Aug. 8, there were only five applicants who tested positive for marijuana only in the past year.

In Columbia’s Drug and Alcohol Free Workplace Policy, pre-employment testing requires that “each individual offered employment must successfully pass a drug test as condition as employment.”

“The city was already letting active users of drugs work for them,” Hutchinson said. “The union represents solid waste workers, and a large amount of these individuals are temp workers employed through outside contractors that do not require drug tests.”

The temp agency primarily used is PeopleReady, which has its own set of drug test requirements separate from city guidelines. Temp employees are not considered employees of the city.

”Finally, we’re getting some steps done, but it takes us yelling and demonstrating and fighting just to get very common sense reforms implemented. And even then, we don’t go the full way,” Hutchinson said.

The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.
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