Medical Marijuana Employment Rights Bill Passes Both California Houses
August 20, 2008
AB2279, introduced in February by Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and co-authored by Assemblymembers Patty Berg (D-Eureka), Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Lori Saldaña (D-San Diego), reverses a January California Supreme Court decision in the case Ross v. RagingWire. Support for the bill has been widespread, coming from labor, business, and health groups at the local and national level.
"Now that both houses of the California legislature have voted in favor of employment rights for medical marijuana patients, the onus is on Governor Schwarzenegger to do the right thing," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access, the medical marijuana advocacy group that argued the case before the Court and a sponsor of the bill. "The Governor has a chance to include medical marijuana patients as productive members of society, thereby protecting the jobs of thousands of Californians with serious illnesses such as cancer and HIV/AIDS."
The bill leaves intact existing state law prohibiting medical marijuana consumption at the workplace or during working hours and protects employers from liability by carving out an exception for safety-sensitive positions. "AB2279 is not about being under the influence while at work. That's against the law, and will remain so," said Mr. Leno, the bill's author. "It's about allowing patients who are able to work safely and who use their doctor-recommended medication in the privacy of their own home, to not be arbitrarily fired from their jobs," continued Mr. Leno. "The voters who supported Proposition 215 did not intend for medical marijuana patients to be forced into unemployment in order to benefit from their medicine."
On January 24, in a 5-2 decision, the California Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that an employer may fire someone solely because they use medical marijuana outside the workplace. The plaintiff in the case, Gary Ross, is a 46-year old disabled veteran who was a systems engineer living Carmichael, California, when he was fired from his job in 2001 at RagingWire Telecommunications for testing positive for marijuana. The decision in Ross v. RagingWire dealt a harsh blow to patients in the courts, shifting the debate to the state legislature. But, before the court made its final decision, Ross enjoyed the support of ten state and national medical organizations, all of the original co-authors of the Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420), and disability rights groups. Since it began recording instances of employment discrimination in 2005, ASA has received hundreds of such reports from all across California.
Employment rights legislation AB2279:
ASA web page on AB2279, including Fact Sheet and Letters of Support: http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/AB2279
Legal briefs and rulings in the Ross v. RagingWire case: http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/Ross
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With over 30,000 active members in more than 40 states, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. ASA works to overcome political and legal barriers by creating policies that improve access to medical cannabis for patients and researchers through legislation, education, litigation, grassroots actions, advocacy and services for patients and the caregivers.