State, National Groups Add Support to Medical Marijuana Employment Case

July 25, 2006
Medical organizations, California state legislators and disability rights organizations have all filed supporting briefs with the California Supreme Court in a landmark employment rights case involving medical marijuana. The amici curiae or ‘friend of the court’ briefs all argue that medical marijuana patients deserve civil employment protections provided by California state law.

The case is being litigated by the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA), on behalf of Gary Ross, a systems engineer fired in September 2001 for failing an employer-mandated drug test because he uses medical marijuana on his doctor’s advice.

“This case is an opportunity for the California Supreme Court to make clear that medical marijuana patients enjoy the same civil rights as everyone else,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of ASA. “Like all disabled persons, Mr. Ross deserves equal protection under the law.”

Ross’s physician had recommended he use cannabis for chronic back pain resulting from injuries sustained during his military service. But his employer, RagingWire Telecommunications, refused to make an exception to their policy that anyone testing positive for marijuana use be terminated.

Mr. Ross went to court, arguing that RagingWire illegally discriminated against him because of his condition, but a state superior court and then an appellate court rejected his argument. ASA appealed to the California Supreme Court, which decided to review the case in November 2006.

The amicus brief filed by ten national and state medical organizations, with the help of the Drug Policy Alliance, makes the case that medical marijuana patients should be considered no different than other patients who require medication to live and work effectively. The medical organizations argue that allowing the firing of medical marijuana patients "erects an unnecessary and unfortunate barrier to effective relief for potentially thousands of members of California’s workforce who suffer from acute or chronic pain, or other debilitating medical conditions."

The organizations signing the medical amicus brief in support of ASA’s case are the American Nurses Association, American Pain Foundation, American Medical Women's Association, Lymphoma Foundation of America, American Nurses Association, California Nurses Association, AIDS Action Council, Gay Men's Health Crisis, National Women's Health Network and Doctors of the World-USA. (www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/ross_medical.pdf)

The legislative amicus brief is being filed by all five of the sponsors of Senate Bill 420, the 2003 legislation that expanded and clarified California’s medical marijuana law. In it, the current and former lawmakers make clear their intent to extend the state’s normal civil protections and guarantees to medical marijuana patients, including the medical disability protections afforded Californians by the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

“[T]he FEHA, together with the Compassionate Use Act, authorize and protect the use of medical cannabis by employees away from the workplace and during non-business hours,” according to the brief signed by former Senator John Vasconcellos, the bill’s author, and Assembly members Mark Leno, Jackie Goldberg, Paul Koretz and Loni Hancock, who were all co-authors of the bill. (www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/ross_legislative.pdf)

In addition to those briefs, two disability rights organizations are also weighing in on the issue: Equal Rights Advocates and Protection and Advocacy. In their brief, the disability rights advocates note that the lower courts’ decisions, upholding the firing of Mr. Ross, “plac[es] individuals for whom marijuana is safe, effective and needed treatment in legal limbo, with their ability to earn a living dependent on the continued indulgence of their employers.” (www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/ross_disability.pdf)

Americans for Safe Access is the nation’s largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. Information about ASA is available at www.SafeAccessNow.org.

For more information or comments, contact William Dolphin at William@safeacessnow.org or (510) 919-1498.



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