The House of Representatives in Illinois passed an employment protection bill for legal recreational cannabis users in the state.

The legislation would prohibit employers from sanctioning workers or discriminating against applicants on the basis of off-the-job marijuana use. The measure does, however, contain a few exemptions for certain types of work, such as jobs involving the operation of heavy machinery, aircraft or firearms, as well as emergency service or safety-related roles. Drug abstinence organizations would also be exempt.

Employers would still be able to sanction workers for being under the influence of marijuana on company time.

The bill – HB 4116 – cleared the House in a 61-41 vote and is now on its way to the Senate for consideration.

“If we’re going to legalize the substance, you should talk about individual liberties and what people want to do on their weekends,” said Rep. Bob Morgan (D), the bill’s sponsor. “We should allow people to make good choices and not be discriminated against in the workplace because of those choices as long as it’s not affecting the workplace.”

Illinois legalized recreational cannabis in 2019, the first state to do so through the legislature rather than a voter-approved ballot initiative. Its adult-use retail cannabis market launched the following year on January 1.

Some commentators suggest the wording of Morgan’s legislation means protections are only in place for workers who test positive for low levels of marijuana. That’s because one of the bill’s exemptions states that employers can sanction workers whose THC levels exceed the legal limit for driving in Illinois, as this could be considered on-the-job use.

Illinois has per se marijuana DUI laws in force, which consider a driver to be impaired if they test positive with more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood within two hours of driving. Critics claim this threshold is far too low as THC levels can remain high in a user’s system long after the intoxicating effects of marijuana have worn off.

Using this same threshold for workers would essentially render the protections in the bill meaningless, since smoking marijuana the night before work could result in THC levels the next morning that are above Illinois’ DUI limit for cannabis.

The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA) represents many employers in Illinois and it reaffirmed its neutral stance on the bill following the vote.

“We don’t believe that the bill is perfect. I think we are going to continue to work on the safety-sensitive position in the Senate,” said IMA’s government affairs director, Donovan Griffith. “But, to that point, Rep. Morgan has been working with the business community tirelessly. I believe all of the amendments he has made up to this point…have been done at the request of the business community.”

Illinois’ move towards strengthening workplace protections for marijuana users follows New York State and the City of Philadelphia’s recent decisions to ban pre-employment testing for cannabis.

state marijuana laws