Council bills would eliminate weed-use testing for some city jobs, expand gun offender registry and more

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Photo by Wally Gobetz, via Flickr

Baltimore City Council members introduced legislation Monday that would exempt applicants for a number of municipal jobs from cannabis-use screening, expand the city’s gun offender registry and more.

Councilwoman Shannon Sneed (13th District) is the lead sponsor on the first proposal, which as written says the city “may not require a prospective employee to submit to a pre-employment screening test for the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol”–better known as THC, the primary psychoactive chemical in cannabis–“as a condition of employment.”

Jobs with the city’s fire and health departments, plus any position requiring a commercial driver’s license or security clearance, involving operation of a motor vehicle or heavy machinery, or as a code enforcement officer, would still require screening for weed use.

But Sneed and others–the bill has five co-sponsors as of this morning–argue it’s burdensome for the city and unnecessarily exclusive to screen out applicants for using a drug that’s been increasingly liberalized.

Baltimore City has more than 11,000 people registered with the state as legal medical cannabis patients and caregivers as of last month. Maryland decriminalized possession of less than 10 grams five years ago, and as of last year, prosecutors have said they’re declining to prosecute larger possession cases unless there’s clear evidence of intent to distribute.

Sneed, who didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday, laid out her case on Twitter Monday night, citing coverage of a recently approved New York City bill that would bar weed testing for most jobs. The New York Times had cited a recent report by testing lab giant Quest Diagnostics that found cannabis use is on the rise among the American workforce.

“This indicates there are probably many qualified applicants to fulfill city job vacancies, however, candidates are overlooked due to private recreational activities,” she wrote.

Her bill is now due for a committee hearing after being introduced at last night’s council’s meeting.

Council President Brandon Scott is eyeing new language beefing up the city’s gun-offender registry law, one of 26 priorities he laid out in a sweeping policy agenda in late July.

Since 2007, Baltimore has required anyone convicted of a gun crime, including nonviolent misdemeanors, to register their name and address with the Baltimore Police Department and update their information every six months for three years. Those who fail to do so face a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.

Some have criticized the registry as ineffective and racist, arguing it (and others like it) merely impose added penalties on gun offenders, most of whom are black in Baltimore, without addressing factors that contribute to gun violence. Baltimore City Circuit Judge Alfred Nance ruled the registry unconstitutional in 2011, but Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals upheld it two years later.

Scott’s proposal, co-sponsored by 13 of the council’s 15 members, would require more types of offenders to register, including those convicted of buying guns for people barred from doing so themselves, known as straw purchasers, or for illegally selling guns to minors.

Scott’s office told Baltimore Fishbowl he’s prioritizing the change based on 2018 police data that indicated three-fifths of guns recovered in Baltimore came from outside the state, and a determination by police that minors are using guns to commit violent crimes.

His bill would also add those caught with assault weapons, which are banned in Maryland, to the list of those who must semiannually register their info with the police department. The 2007 law that created the registry included the phrase “assault pistols” but didn’t cover the broader category of assault weapons.

And while the law enacted 12 years ago also said convictions for illegal gun sales and possession of firearms by minors would require enrollment in the registry, Scott said the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice informed him recently that straw purchasers and people selling firearms to minors weren’t covered.

“All of the stuff that we’re adding in are things that were not covered by the statute before…multiple things that weren’t included that probably should be,” the council president said.

Responding to critics of the gun registry’s very existence, Scott said he understands the concern, but added that punishment is needed for straw purchasers buying guns across state lines from places like Pennsylvania and West Virginia and bringing them into Baltimore.

“I want to be sure that we’re dealing with these individuals who are bringing these weapons into our neighborhoods.”

Other legislation introduced Monday would extend deadlines for adopting a Complete Streets manual to redesign Baltimore’s roads to prioritize pedestrian safety, create a commission to review the Baltimore City Charter at least once every 10 years and require an equity assessment for certain future bills.

Then-mayor Catherine Pugh enacted Complete Streets legislation last year, but its sponsor, Councilman Ryan Dorsey (3rd District), said at a recent hearing that Pugh and now-former Transportation Director Michelle Pourciau let the transportation design overhaul languish in the last year.

The council’s Transportation Committee will hear the Complete Streets deadline-extension bill tomorrow. Hearings have not been set for the charter review and gun-registry expansion bills. 

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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