CA Supreme Court Denies Medical Marijuana Patients' Right to Work

January 24, 2008
Sacramento, CA -- The California Supreme Court ruled against medical marijuana patient Gary Ross today in his fight against employment discrimination. In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court claimed that Ross could not rely on the Fair Housing and Employment Act or the state's medical marijuana law to prevent discrimination at the workplace. The Court did indicate in its decision that the state legislature had not adequately clarified employment rights of medical marijuana patients.

"Obviously, we are very disappointed by today's decision," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana advocacy organization that argued the case. "However, we remain hopeful that the legislature will come to the aid of patients by preventing the sort of discrimination that is likely to occur from such a decision." The dissenting opinion, written by Justice Joyce L. Kennard, stated that the ruling "has seriously compromised the Compassionate Use Act, denying to those who must work for a living its promised benefits."

Despite a clearly worded amicus "friend of the court" brief filed in support of Ross in July 2006 by all of the original co-authors of SB 420 (state legislation that helped to define the rights of medical marijuana patients), the Supreme Court failed to believe that it was the intent of the entire legislature. Advocates assert that they will seek a different response from the state legislature in the form of a bill introduced in the next few weeks.

Gary Ross, a 45-year old disabled veteran and a medical marijuana patient living in Carmichael, California, is at the forefront of a landmark employment case, with significant ramifications for patients in California and across the country. Ross was fired in September 2001 for failing an employer-mandated drug test while working as a systems engineer for RagingWire Telecommunications, Inc.

"All I am asking is to be a productive member of society," said plaintiff Gary Ross. "I was not fired for poor work performance, but for an antiquated policy on medical marijuana,” continued Ross. “This practice allows employers to undermine state law and the protections provided for patients.”

Ross's physician recommended cannabis for chronic back pain that resulted from injuries sustained during his military service. But Ross's employer, RagingWire Telecommunications, refused to make an exception to its policy of terminating anyone testing positive for marijuana.

Ross filed suit after he was fired in 2001, arguing that RagingWire illegally discriminated against him because of his condition. However, a Sacramento Superior Court, and then the Third Appellate District Court both rejected his argument. In October 2005, ASA appealed to the California Supreme Court on behalf of Ross. Strong public support has been shown for Ross and the plight of California patients to seek and maintain employment.

Since it began recording instances of employment discrimination in 2005, ASA has received hundreds of such reports from across California. Companies that have either fired patients from their job, threatened them with termination, or denied them employment because of patient status or a positive test for marijuana, include Costco Wholesale, UPS, Foster Farms Dairy, DirecTV, the San Joaquin Courier, Power Auto Group, as well as several construction companies, hospitals, and various trade union employers.

Further information:
Today's California Supreme Court decision: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/Ross_Ruling.pdf
Photo of Gary Ross: http://safeaccessnow.org/img/original/Ross_pic3.jpg
Legislative-based amicus brief: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/ross_legislative.pdf
Review legal briefs and more about the Ross v. RagingWire case here: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/Ross

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