Medical Marijuana and Employment

Non-lawyers are often troubled by how messy and inconsistent the law can be. A student asked why California law could permit medical use of marijuana when its possession is a criminal offense under federal law. I noted that such conflicts remain unresolved until lawsuit puts the conflict before a court. Coincidentally, while I was in class a friend sent me this article from Bloomberg: California Worker Fired for Marijuana Can’t Sue. Gary Ross’s doctor recommended marijuana use to relieve pain from a back injury. Ross’s employer, Ragingwire Telecommunications, Inc. fired him when a drug test required for new employees revealed he had fired up. His lawsuit claimed that his termination discriminated based on a disability and violated public policy. A California trial court dismissed his lawsuit, an intermediate appellate court affirmed the dismissal, and the California Supreme Court affirmed the lower-court rulings 5-2. According to Bloomberg the court held that “[n]othing in California’s voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which allows the smoking of marijuana when recommended by a physician, governs the ‘respective rights and duties of employers and employees.'” The article notes in passing the observation by Ragingwire’s attorney that “he didn’t believe any state legislation would overcome a fundamental conflict between the California medical-use law and federal law banning possession and use of marijuana.”

7 thoughts on “Medical Marijuana and Employment”

  1. This is definitely an unfortunate turn of events, but Ross’s claim of disability discrimination is weak. A prescription for any type of pain meds is hardly grounds for characterizing oneself as disabled, especially if the back problems are not chronic and rather the result of an injury.
    Secondly, shouldn’t Ross have consulted with his employer before the test – maybe they could have come to a more peaceable resolution such as paid leave while on such medication etc.

  2. I support the courts ruling. Since the Act just legalizes the use of marijuana for medical purposes which doesn’t even require a written prescription, it can be misused. There is a possibility that patients or people who don’t even have an ailment may use it as a pretext to smoke marijuana in public places, near schools etc. This could adversely affect young adults.I believe that Ross would have had a stronger case if the Act was more specific in terms of where and how much and how one could intake marijuana when properly prescribed by a doctor.

  3. I still feel like this article doesn’t quite address the question that arose in class. The confliction between both state and federal law, as well as it seems other in-state laws is unavoidable. Is there any attempt at resolve between these conflicts or any protection for the citizens who feel as though what they are doing is legal within their state?

  4. While I agree with the court’s decision, since the employer does have the right to institute anti-drug policies and safeguard itself against the use of marijuana through federal law, I also feel that this conflict should be fully resolved with clear guidelines and actual precedence established. If a medication is deemed legal by a physician then it’s only in the public interest to have that legality match with the employment standards throughout the state. Undeniably cases like this will continue to rise and cost both the state, businesses, and individuals money simply because their continues to be such a discrepancy. The problem is not simply between the state and federal laws, but between state’s law and what is actually accepted by the state’s employers/companies.

  5. Two observation s for Kelly and Richardson: First, discrepancies–between federal and state law, federal law and the constitution, state law and a state constitution–are only resolved when a person charged with violating a law challenges its validity in court or when a group such as the ACLU files a lawsuit challenging the law. Legislatures could scrutinize potential conflicts more carefully while considering new laws but legislation often grows out of political pressure, not thoughtful analysis.

    State and federal employment laws generally protect certain well-defined groups or activities. If employer fires an employee for a reason other than one specifically prohibited by the law then the employee has little legal recourse. There is always a tension between the concepts of at-will employment and employee rights.

  6. I feel that the federal law could consider legalizing the medical use of marijuana to resolve the conflict. If legalized it will help save the huge taxes paid by taxpayers that go towards curbing the use of marijuana and enforcing the law. Instead, a tax can be imposed on the purchase of marijuana which will help increase revenues collected each year. Once legalized, clear guidelines can be laid down for its prescription, the amount and the places where people are allowed to consume it.

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