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Would-be City Council aide challenges drug test for pot


Jasmin Reggler had planned to spend New Year’s Eve meeting constituents with incoming Rochester City Council member Mary Lupien, who had tentatively hired her as a legislative aide.

Instead, the city had informed Reggler she couldn’t have the job, which meant she couldn’t work the event. The problem wasn’t her resume or a poor reference. The problem was the THC in her system, the psychoactive component in cannabis.

Despite aggressive moves at the state level to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, and Mayor Lovely Warren publicly supporting the push, the city requires prospective employees to submit to a drug test in which their urine is screened for, among other drugs, marijuana.

When Reggler tested positive, she was barred under city policy for working for the city for one year.

“I see what the policy is, I take responsibility for what I did, I’m not ashamed of it, and I accept the consequences,” Reggler said. “That doesn’t mean I can’t speak on it, people still need to speak up.”

Reggler, who is house coordinator at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality and founder of the Rochester Free Store at the South Wedge Mission, said she doesn’t use cannabis daily. She described herself as a casual weekend smoker who most often uses before doing chores, like cleaning her apartment.

The city’s hard-and-fast rule against marijuana is antiquated, Reggler said, as someone’s personal use of cannabis is unlikely to affect their on the job performance. She also noted that Council members are not tested for drugs.

“I think they haven’t looked into how it affects people,” Reggler said. “I think they have a blanket policy of, ‘We have to test for drugs,’ but they don’t look at how long it stays in your system or what effect it has on a person.”

Reggler also views the city’s policy on marijuana use as unusually strict for the Warren administration, given the mayor’s support for cannabis legalization. Warren announced her support for legalization last year and estimated that the new cannabis industry could bring the city up to $2.4 million in new revenue.

City spokesperson Jessica Alaimo said any change in the city’s testing policy would have to take the cue from the state Legislature.

“The bottom line is the mayor supports the governor’s proposal to legalize marijuana,” Alaimo said. “If and when that policy is approved, we will look at revisiting our drug testing policy.”

Earlier this month, Reggler wrote Warren an email asking for a meeting to address concerns she had about the drug-testing policy. Warren replied that she and Council President Loretta Scott would meet on the subject and will review the policy with the Human Resources and Law departments.

The Warren administration has made meaningful changes to pre-employment screening policies before. With the support of Council, it put a “ban the box” law on the books in 2014 that barred Rochester employers from asking job applicants whether they had been convicted of a felony.

If Rochester were to stop testing for marijuana use, it would join other cities that have disposed of the practice. In May 2019, the New York City Council passed a law prohibiting city government, private employers, hiring agencies, and labor organizations from testing job candidates for marijuana.

Lupien wants Rochester’s government to adopt a similar policy.

“I couldn’t believe we still test for THC, knowing the horror criminalization has done to the city, particularly communities of color,” Lupien said. “Collectively, us on the City Council and the mayor, it doesn’t seem to match up with our values.”

Urine testing, the primary method of drug screening used by the city, also places marijuana users at a disadvantage compared to users of “harder” drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Urinalysis companies note that chemicals associated with marijuana can be detected for up to a month, while those associated with cocaine or heroin tend to be undetectable in under a week.

Reggler said she abstained from marijuana for three weeks before failing her test.
Other people have been rejected from city jobs because they tested positive for marijuana use.

In March 2019, Barbara Rivera, an organizer with the City-Wide Tenant Union, was denied a spot in Flower City AmeriCorps, which offers year-long apprenticeships through the city, after failing a test for cannabis. Applicants are tested by the city.

“Just because I smoke marijuana I didn’t get the job,” Rivera said, speaking to Council at its January meeting. “I wasn’t given the opportunity to prove myself as a community leader.”

Reggler plans to address Council at its next monthly meeting on February 18.
“Even if they want to keep it on the table and test for that, if it shows just THC, take another step, check references for that person, or put them on a probationary period,” Reggler said. “See how they do for the next month, but not just, ‘You're done.’”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at [email protected].