Medical pot users need job protection

January 27, 2008

EDITORIAL, Honolulu Star-Bulletin


The California Supreme Court has ruled that employers may fire workers for using doctor-prescribed marijuana for medical purposes.


THE latest threat to ailing people who use doctor-recommended marijuana to ease their pain comes from a strange ruling by the California Supreme Court. The court ruled that employers may fire workers for using marijuana for medical purposes, which will prompt legislation to undo the ruling's damage. As one of 11 states that have legalized medical use of cannabis, Hawaii should enact similar workplace protections.

In a 5-2 ruling last week, the California high court upheld the firing Gary Ross, a former Air Force mechanic who used marijuana to ease the pain from injuries to his lower back in a fall off an airplane in 1983. A doctor prescribed the marijuana, but the court ruled that California's legalization of marijuana deals with criminal prosecution, not terms of employment.

Laws allowing medical use of marijuana were approved by California voters in 1996 and by the Hawaii Legislature four years later. As many as a thousand Hawaii residents have been registered with the state to use marijuana to treat their illnesses.

Those laws have been attacked by the Bush administration, which won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that subjects medical marijuana users to prosecution. However, that decision does not cover workplace rules.

The telecommunications company that fired Ross argued that it feared a raid by federal authorities. A state assemblyman from San Francisco said he plans to introduce a bill to provide medical marijuana users some workplace protections.

Left over from last year's Hawaii Legislature is a bill that would expand the use of medical marijuana and restrict physicians' role to conform with court rulings. While the California ruling does not apply to Hawaii, a precautionary provision providing workplace-protection should be attached to that bill and enacted into law.

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