Medical Marijuana Employment Rights Bill Passes Two State Assembly Committees

April 17, 2008
Sacramento, CA -- A state medical marijuana employment rights bill, which has the support of statewide SEIU and AFSCME and the nearly 1 million workers they represent in California, was approved today by the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee on a 6-2 vote. AB2279, which protects the rights of hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients in California from employment discrimination, was introduced in February by Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and co-authored by Assemblymembers Patty Berg (D-Eureka), Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Lori Saldaña (D-San Diego). The bill, which heads to the Assembly floor next, reverses a January California Supreme Court decision in Ross v. RagingWire. National medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) argued the case before the court and is now a sponsor of the bill.

"We're grateful for the support of the state legislature in preserving the rights of patients to work and be productive members of society," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. "With the jobs of thousands of sick Californians hanging in the balance, we are hopeful that the full Assembly will act in similar fashion to the Labor and Judiciary Committees." The bill, which also has the support of the National Lawyer Guild, was passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on April 8, on a 6-3 vote. Other supporters of AB2279 include the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of People With AIDS, AIDS Institute, and AIDS Project Los Angeles.

The bill leaves intact existing state law prohibiting medical marijuana consumption at the workplace and protects employers from liability by carving out an exception for safety-sensitive positions. "The California Supreme Court decision said that an employer may fire someone solely because they use medical marijuana outside the workplace," Mr. Leno said in a previous statement. "Long ago, the legislature prohibited patient use of medical cannabis in the workplace or during working hours," continued Leno. "AB 2279 is merely an affirmation of the intent of the voters and the legislature that medical marijuana patents need not be unemployed to benefit from their medicine."

On January 24, in a 5-2 decision, the California Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that denied qualified patients a remedy from employment discrimination, based either on their status as a patient or a positive test for marijuana. 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. "It's important that we not allow employment discrimination in California," said former plaintiff Gary Ross. "If the court is going to ignore the need for protection, then it's up to the legislature to ensure that productive workers like me are free from discrimination."

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.

Further information:
Employment rights legislation AB2279: http://americansforsafeaccess.org/downloads/AB2279.pdf
ASA 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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