As medical cannabis use increasingly becomes legal around the United States, it’s only natural that patients using cannabis for medical purposes look for legal protection when it comes to their jobs and careers. A major concern for users of medical cannabis is the drug tests required by employers which subject users to workplace discrimination if they tested positive.
California is considered the biggest medical cannabis state and with the passing of California Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, California was the first state to legalize the use of cannabis for medical purposes. However, patients using cannabis as an alternative treatment to pharmaceutical drugs are still facing difficulties acquiring and keeping their jobs as the original bill failed to include protection for their right to use their preferred method of medication.
California NORML conducted a survey that shows out of 400 respondents, almost 10% were terminated due to testing positive for cannabis and around 19% were denied employment for the same reason.
In 2008, Gary Ross, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran who used cannabis to treat chronic back pain, filed a lawsuit against RagingWire Telecommunications, Inc. as a result of the company’s decision to fire him due to testing positive for cannabis use. The California Supreme Court said his termination is legal and ruled against the right for employees to use medical cannabis. The Supreme Court held that employers are not obligated to accommodate to an employee’s medicinal cannabis use and noted that it remains illegal according to federal law even if prescribed by a medical professional. Shortly after, a bill to invalidate the Supreme Court’s ruling, proposed by Assemblyman Mark Leno, was rejected by Governor Schwarzenegger.
Several steps have been taken to amend this gap in the legislation since then. Most recently in February 2018, Rob Bonta, California Assembly Member for District 18, and Bill Quirk, Assembly Member for District 20—both pro-cannabis lawmakers—co-authored and introduced Assembly Bill 2069.
The bill proposes prohibiting employers from terminating an employee or rejecting a job applicant if they test positive for cannabis use as long as they hold a legal medical marijuana identification card. Furthermore, the bill mentions that “no scientific evidence exists that medical cannabis users are substandard employees.” On the other hand, Rob Bonta mentioned that Assembly Bill 2069 does not offer protection for those working in safety-sensitive occupations, such as truck drivers and airplane pilots.
Since cannabis can be detected in a urine sample weeks after using, the bill also brings up the futility of conducting drug tests as it is impossible to determine when the use occurred.
On April 25, the California Assembly Labor and Employment Committee approved AB 2069 which is considered a breakthrough for medical cannabis patients not only in California but all over the United States. The bill is currently held under submission for further discussion between the authors and the members of the committee.
It is worth noting that only eleven of the U.S. states have laws that specifically grant employees protection against workplace discrimination due to medical cannabis use.
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