Thursday, January 24, 2008

Medical Marijuana Can Get You Fired

California Supreme Court sides with Feds.

The California Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that employers have the right to fire workers who test positive for marijuana—even if the pot is being used in line with California’s medical marijuana statutes.

In a 5-2 decision, the Court said that a Sacramento company had the right to fire an employee who tested positive for marijuana on a routine drug test, even though the employee had a letter from his physician recommending the use of marijuana for chronic pain due to a back injury suffered in the Air Force.

Justice Kathryn Werdegar, writing for the majority, made clear the legal tangle created when California voters passed an initiative in 1996 allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes: “No state law could completely legalize marijuana for medical purposes because the drug remains illegal under federal law, even for medical users.”

Last year, a San Francisco federal court ruled that a woman with a brain tumor did not have a fundamental right of access to marijuana for medical treatment. In addition, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) shut down several medical marijuana dispensing centers and made several arrests for felony distribution. Yesterday’s ruling bolsters the contention that federal law trumps state statutes.

The Pacific Legal Foundation filed a brief in support of the employer’s position in the case. “What are they supposed to do?” said Pacific Legal Foundation’s Deborah LaFetra. “Employers are held liable all the time when drunk or stoned employees cause trouble, either in the workplace or driving home.”

A spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group based in Oakland, said they would go back to the California State legislature seeking to protect workers who use pot for medical reasons. According to the group, at least 200,000 workers in California may now be using marijuana under a doctor’s recommendation. “We remain confident that there will be a day when medical marijuana patients are not discriminated against in the workplace,” the spokesperson said.

photo credit: In These Times

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