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Marijuana could be removed from firefighter drug testing requirements

Springfield Fire Department (Jordan Elder/WICS)
Springfield Fire Department (Jordan Elder/WICS)
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Some city employees will no longer be tested for marijuana on their drug screenings, and if the contract between the city and the firefighters union is approved, the list of exempt employees could soon grow longer.

If the contract is ratified, firefighters will not be tested for marijuana when they go in for drug tests.

It's a policy the firefighters union pulled for as they re-negotiated their contract, officials said Tuesday.

Chief Brandon Blough said between five and eight firefighters are randomly selected for drug testing, usually about six times per year.

The city would still be able to require testing for all the other drugs they're currently screening for.

"It's a real dangerous precedent," said Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin.

Marijuana testing has already been lifted as a requirement for employees in other areas of the city.

This provision was also passed in the contract for AFSCME members, but there are some exceptions.

Any employee who holds a Commercial Driver's License with the city will still be tested for marijuana, a requirement that complies with existing law.

These include people who do things like drive plows, trucks, and more.

Outside of that, other city employees will still be tested for marijuana.

"I think we need a complete no-tolerance rule, because marijuana usage is incompatible with the types of duties that are performed by first responders," McMenamin said.

Jim Zerkle, Corporation Counsel for the city, clarified in Tuesday's meeting that a state law says using marijuana during off duty hours can't be used as a basis to fire someone, unless they're on the job under the influence.

"This has procedures to address that issue, it also prohibits any kind of ingestion 36 hours in advance of any work time," Zerkle told the council.

This is an excerpt from the Illinois statute:

It shall be unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise disadvantage any individual, with respect to compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because the individual uses lawful products off the premises of the employer during nonworking and non-call hours. As used in this Section, “lawful products” means products that are legal under state law....
The use of cannabis by a law enforcement officer, corrections officer, probation officer, or firefighter while on duty; nothing in this Act prevents a public employer of law enforcement officers, corrections officers, probation officers, paramedics, or firefighters from prohibiting or taking disciplinary action for the consumption, possession, sales, purchase, or delivery of cannabis or cannabis-infused substances while on or off duty, unless provided for in the employer’s policies. However, an employer may not take adverse employment action against an employee based solely on the lawful possession or consumption of cannabis or cannabis-infused substances by members of the employee’s household.

Zerkle also added that there are policies and procedures in place if people are found to be under the influence on the job.

For example, the city could test workers after they've been involved in an accident.

But Chief Blough says he doesn't think that will be a big issue.

"We, as a fire department, we have full confidence in our workforce that it's not gonna be something that we have to worry about on a large basis," Blough said.

This exemption only covers cannabis. The city will still have the ability to test for other drugs in their screening.

The city council is expected to discuss the fire contract again next week.

Firefighters in Illinois do not have to have Commercial Driver's Licenses to operate the trucks and engines.

The Secretary of State's office says this is because firefighting organizations have extensive training requirements to operate those vehicles.

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