Exclusive: Could a loosening of marijuana rules solve the city's job vacancy problem?

Exclusive: Could a loosening of marijuana rules solve the city's job vacancy problem?

CARONDELET PARK – Is a liberalization of rules regarding marijuana use the answer to filling a glut of open city jobs?

That’s one potential solution being kicked around by a group of aldermen who oppose the lifting of the so-called residency requirement, which demands that city employees live within the city limits.

The conundrum officials are facing is that the city of St. Louis has job openings. Lots of them. And with residency appearing likely to remain on the books, officials are looking for other ways to solve a persistent problem.

Job fairs such as one recently sponsored by the Board of Aldermen in the Carondelet neighborhood of south city are part of the answer, according to some. The belief is that the city hasn’t done enough to reach out to job seekers, particularly those who lack internet access. Many critics on the board feel it is the responsibility of the city to physically go out and find new workers.

“It does not surprise me how many positions are open; and if that speaks to people’s not knowing, then that would be a clear sign,” 26th Ward Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard said.

But some aldermen believe there is another obstacle to getting the necessary candidates to fill those positions: marijuana.

A positive test for pot will eliminate a job candidate in the city, but, at the same time, the drug is just over two months from becoming legal for medical purposes in Missouri, and for legitimate sale to anyone who wants to buy it just across the river in Illinois. Also, the city’s top prosecutor has essentially decriminalized the drug, refusing to bring charges for possession of small, “user” amounts.

For those reasons, a group of aldermen, including Third Ward Alderman Brandon Bosley, who spoke about the issue in a recent meeting, are starting to advocate for a change in city hiring policy. He suggests that a positive marijuana test no longer be deal breaker.

Bosley is not alone on the issue, as we discovered at that job fair. Hubbard also believes it’s worth a look.

“I think that if it’s a barrier we would have that it’s legal in some places,” it should be addressed, she observed.Medically it’s legal. Why would we put that initially on there and that would cross people out and stop being able to apply? I don’t think that, if you use the word ‘smart,’ I don’t think that it’s smart. But I do think there are some jobs you have to test for that.”

But such a move would certainly face resistance, starting with the people doing the hiring.

Charles Price works for SLATE, the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment. He believes that although marijuana use is a barrier for some, those same people need to take a look in the mirror when it comes to what they really want or even need.

“A lot of people are disqualified because they want to get high. The standard is, ‘Do you want to work?’ Not, ‘Do you want to get high?’ So if I want to work, I want to do the things I need to do to work,” Price reasoned.

Other members of the Board of Aldermen said they were willing to have a conversation but would need more than a little convincing to make a move that just a decade ago would have been unthinkable.

“At this moment I would say, ‘Let’s look at it,’” 19th ward Alderwoman Marlene Davis said. “But we also have to be very cautious, too. That is not something that just because a law says it’s okay to do something in your private life, you must follow the rules of your employment.”

Davis said the issue was about connecting with those who want to work rather than worrying about what they intend to do in their spare time.

“We all have more work to do. Many of our residents do not have internet,” she observed. “Many are not comfortable filling out an online application, so we must explore opportunities for them to find information in many different ways.”

To find out about jobs available in the city, go here.

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