Court: Workers can be fired for using medical marijuana

January 23, 2008

, Associated Press

Employers can fire workers found to have used medical marijuana that was legally prescribed, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday in another setback for California in its increasingly rancorous clash with federal law over medical pot use.

The high court upheld a Sacramento telecommunications company's firing of a man who flunked a company-ordered drug test. Gary Ross held 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 use is illegal under federal law, which does not recognize the medical marijuana laws in California and 11 other states.

A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision declared that state medicinal marijuana laws don't protect users from prosecution. The Drug Enforcement Agency and other federal agencies have been actively shutting down major medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state over the last two years and charging their operators with serious felony distributions charges.

The company said it fired Ross because it feared it could be the target of a federal raid, among other reasons.

Ragingwire, a small telecommunications company in Sacramento, has been joined in the Supreme Court by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the Western Electrical Contractors Association Inc., who said companies could lose federal contracts and grants if they allowed employees to smoke pot.

The conservative nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation said in a friend-of-the court filing that employers could also be liable for damage done by high workers.

Ross had argued that medical marijuana users should receive the same workplace protection from discipline that employees with valid painkiller prescriptions do. California voters legalized medicinal marijuana in 1996.

The nonprofit marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, which is represented Ross, estimates that 300,000 Americans use medical marijuana. The Oakland-based group said it has received hundreds of employee discrimination complaints in California since it first began tracking the issue in 2005.

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.

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