City Council eliminates cannabinoid screenings for city employee applicants


Jacob Wendler/The Daily Northwestern

Councilmembers discuss proposed ordinances at Monday’s meeting. When considering waiving cannabinoid screenings, the council considered safety-based exemptions, as well as differentiating between on-the-clock and recreational use of marijuana.

Ilana Arougheti, City Editor

City Council voted unanimously Monday to stop screening city employment applicants for cannabinoids. With this rule, recreational use of marijuana will no longer prevent residents from applying to city job postings.

Since marijuana is legal in Illinois, the council discussed how to regulate on-hours use — which could impair an employee’s performance — versus off-hours use, which Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said is not illicit and beyond the employer’s purview.

Burns said the removal of a pre-employment screening would uphold privacy on off-hours. Case-by-case testing based on workplace behavior, meanwhile, would keep a check on employees during billable hours, though cannabinoid tests sometimes won’t come up negative until a day or two after use. He compared this standard to the way that most workplaces approach employees’ alcohol habits. 

“We’re allowing people to drink wine and beer and other alcoholic beverages during off-work hours, and if they behave out of the ordinary, then we can test them, which is essentially all this will do for cannabis,” Burns said. “So we’d be putting this in mind with how we treat another legal substance in Illinois.”

Since the city’s federal funding relies on a drug-free workplace policy, Corporate Council Nicholas Cummings said the city would be able to individually test employees based on abnormal behavior, even if they did not screen for cannabinoids before offering employment contracts. 

This screening system could be sufficient for upholding drug-free workplace standards, Cummings said, as long as employees are trained in initiating screenings without bias.

“It is important that we train our supervisors and managers and areas of commitment from human resources to do that to make sure we actually spot faults and we’re not targeting people,” Cummings said. 

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said he was cautious about stopping screening processes for some employees hired through the city — particularly first responders like police officers and firefighters, and those who operate heavy machinery. 

In response, Cummings clarified that candidates for positions that require a commercial drivers’ license for major machinery could not skip the cannabinoid screening due to federal regulations. Similarly, he said, testing requirements for Evanston Police Department employees are determined by police union contract negotiations and are not set by the city. 

Chicago has similar procedures to the new ordinance. The city’s municipal government excludes cannabinoids from pre-employment screening with exceptions for union employees and “safety-sensitive positions,” said Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski.

Burns said Evanston’s Administration and Public Works Committee hotly debated the ordinance earlier that afternoon. 

The city is currently hiring for 63 municipal positions, including police officers, school bus drivers and managerial roles in recreation, health and human services. Most open positions are full-time. 

The city used American Rescue Plan Act funds to bring back some municipal job openings after reducing overall staff size during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reflecting recent national employment trends, multiple Evanston departments — notably, EPD — are now short-staffed

“In case anyone hasn’t noticed, marijuana is legal in Illinois,” Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) said. “And we shouldn’t be denying employment for people who partake.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ilana_arougheti

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