Medical Pot Use Can Get You Fired

Medical Pot Use Can Get You Fired
Posted by CN Staff on January 25, 2008 at 05:02:28 PT
By Thadeus Greenson, The Times-Standard
Source: Times-Standard
California -- A California Supreme Court decision Thursday allowing employers to fire workers for using medical marijuana has some local attorneys disappointed and scratching their heads. ”To me, it's an absolute travesty that patients who receive doctors' recommendations to use medical cannabis are discriminated against in the workplace,” said Greg Allen, a local attorney with experience handling marijuana cases. “I'm pretty appalled at this ruling.”
The high court upheld a Sacramento telecommunications company's firing of Gary Ross, who flunked a company-ordered drug test but had a medical marijuana card authorizing him to legally use marijuana to treat a back injury sustained while serving in the Air Force. The company, Ragingwire Inc., successfully argued it rightfully fired Ross because all marijuana is illegal under federal law, which does not recognize medical marijuana laws in California and 11 other states. ”No state law could completely legalize marijuana for medical purposes because the drug remains illegal under federal law,” Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote for the 5-2 majority. Eureka attorney Neal Sanders, who specializes in medical marijuana cases, said he doesn't see what federal law has to do with the case. ”This is a California case,” he said. “It's dealing with California employers, and this particular person was concerned about losing his job in California. (Ross) didn't sue under federal law, he sued under California law, under which people can use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. I don't see how federal law comes into play in a California case.” Sanders comments seem to underline a battle that has followed California's Compassionate Use Act -- also known as Proposition 215 -- since its adoption in 1996. A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision declared that medical marijuana laws don't protect users from federal prosecution. The Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies have recently been actively shutting down medical marijuana dispensaries throughout California, charging their operators with felony distribution. In Ross' case, Ragingwire said it fired him because, among other reasons, the company feared it could be the target of a federal raid. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the Western Electrical Contractors Association Inc. joined Ragingwire's case, arguing that companies could lose federal contracts and grants if they allowed employees to smoke pot. Thursday's decision, Allen said, could place California on a slippery slope, and employees on other medications could find themselves next on the firing block. ”Remember, this case was clear and the facts were decided that this guy's work performance wasn't affected in any way,” Allen said. “If you can do it with one medication, you can do it with another. ... It does have the potential for opening up the flood gates on other medications.” For his part, Sanders said the decision also enters the dangerous ground of employers controlling what employees do legally while away from work. ”People ought to understand that this issue isn't if someone should be able to smoke marijuana at work or on their break,” Sanders said. “The only question here is whether an employer had the ability to control what an employee does at home, which was legal under state law.” Americans for Safe Access, or ASA, a nonprofit marijuana advocacy group that represents Ross, said in a press release that the group has received hundreds of similar complaints of employment discrimination since 2005. ASA attorney Joe Elford said the group will now focus on getting the Legislature to pass a law protecting medical marijuana users. ”Obviously, we are extremely disappointed by the ruling,” Elford said. “But we remain confident that there will be a day when medical marijuana patients are not discriminated against in the workplace.” The American Medical Association advocates keeping marijuana classified as a tightly controlled and dangerous drug that should not be legalized until more research is done. The Associated Press contributed to this reportSource: Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)Author: Thadeus Greenson, The Times-StandardPublished: January 25, 2008Copyright: 2008 MediaNews Group, Inc. Contact: editor times-standard.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Americans For Safe Access Users Stuck Justices Put Limits on Medical Marijuana Law Gives Bosses Leeway To Fire Pot User
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