State Bill Protects Employment Rights of Medical Marijuana Patients

February 21, 2008
Sacramento, CA -- Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and several co-authors introduced a bill yesterday that would protect the rights of hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients in California from employment discrimination. 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 employment rights bill, which is being co-authored by Assemblymembers Patty Berg (D-Eureka), Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Lori Saldaña (D-San Diego), is in response to a January decision by the California Supreme Court 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.

"The California Supreme Court decision said that an employer may fire someone solely because they use medical marijuana outside the workplace," said Assemblymember Leno. "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 the 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 wholesale 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 closed the door on redress through the courts, shifting the debate to the state legislature. California is not alone in its attempt to affirm employment protections for medical marijuana patients. Both Oregon and Hawaii have introduced similar legislation aimed at clarifying the intent of the state legislatures. This recent multi-state effort builds on existing legislation adopted in ten out of twelve medical marijuana states, including California, which already sought to protect patients from employment discrimination. "We welcome and strongly endorse this clarification from the legislature," said ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes. "Despite the ill-conceived ruling by the California Supreme Court, the intent of state legislatures has been to recognize the civil rights of patients and to offer them reasonable protections."

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. Employers that have either fired patients from their job, threatened them with termination, or denied them employment because of patient status or because of 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:
Employment rights legislation introduced yesterday: http://safeaccessnow.org/downloads/AB2279.pdf
California Supreme Court decision in Ross v. RagingWire: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/Ross_Ruling.pdf
Review legal briefs and more about the Ross v. RagingWire case here: http://www.safeaccessnow.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.

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