Medical marijuana patients could see protection

June 03, 2008

Jeremy Ogul, The California Aggie

A bill protecting medical marijuana patients is making its way through the California legislature.

Assembly Bill 2279 would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against medical marijuana patients. It would allow patients to bring lawsuits against employers who have fired or not hired them because of their status as medical marijuana patients.

AB 2279 passed in the state assembly May 28 by a vote of 41 to 35. Four Democrats crossed party lines to vote against the bill. It is now being evaluated by the state senate.

Lois Wolk, D-Davis, was one of the four Democratic assembly members who voted against the bill. Wolk was unavailable for comment before press time, but a spokesperson said she did not support the bill because of heavy opposition from the law enforcement community.

The bill stems from the case of a Sacramento computer technician who was fired by RagingWire Enterprise Solutions for testing positive for marijuana use, although he was a legal medical marijuana patient. A lawsuit went to the California Supreme Court, which decided that the company was justified in its actions.

It appears that the issue is not isolated to a few cases.

"We've received hundreds of such reports since we started recording them in 2005," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a nonprofit medical marijuana advocacy group. "Those are pretty widespread across the state and in varying kinds of businesses and companies."

California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act, or Proposition 215, in 1996 to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The legislature clarified the law in 2003 with Senate Bill 420.

"The state Supreme Court just simply got it wrong," Hermes said. "The state legislature never meant for the more than 200,000 patients that now exist in California to be able to use their medicine but not be able to work, so this bill simply corrects the mistake the Supreme Court made."

Assembly member Roger Niello, R-Sacramento, said he voted against the bill because it is unworkable.

"I understand what the author is trying to get at, but it completely compromises an employer's ability to have a drug-free workplace," Niello said. "The problem is, how does an employer ensure himself or herself that the person is not either using on the job or under the influence?"

He said businesses would have to carve out special programs for medical marijuana patients to make sure they were not using on the job or working under the influence, which would be an "unworkable burden."

"Currently, if a business wants to accommodate a medical marijuana user they can, but any approach that would force a business to hire a medical marijuana user ... is heavy-handed and for the employer, very difficult to navigate," he said.

Locally, the passage of such a bill would not have a broad impact. Myrna Epstein, the former supervisor of vital records for the Yolo County Health Department, said there are seven people with medical marijuana ID cards in Yolo County and three applications pending.

JEREMY OGUL can be reached at city@californiaaggie.com. 


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