- Dec 20, 2002
- Best answers
Lame.LOS ANGELES, Jan. 24 -- The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that employers can fire workers who test positive for marijuana even if they have a note from a doctor recommending its use for medical reasons.
The 5 to 2 ruling came in a state that was the first to legalize cannabis for medical use but has followed up with ambiguity and ambivalence about making it a reality.
In the latest ruling, the high court said a Sacramento company had the right to fire Gary Ross in 2001 after a routine drug test came back positive for marijuana. Ross showed RagingWire Inc. a copy of his physician's recommendation to smoke the drug to relieve chronic back pain from three lumbar vertebrae fractured when he fell off the wing of an F-16 as an Air Force mechanic in 1983.
"From 1999 when my doctor started recommending medical marijuana, I can stop that spasm from getting into a knot and I don't need any pain medication," said Ross, adding he smokes only when he experiences spasms. "Prior to 1999 I was carted off in an ambulance a half a dozen times. Since 1999, only once."
But the company fired him, arguing that drug use was illegal under federal law.
"What are they supposed to do?" said Deborah La Fetra of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed a brief supporting the company. "Employers are held liable all the time when drunk or stoned employees cause trouble, either in the workplace or driving home. That's one of the reasons why the drug-free workplace is so important."
The high court largely agreed. "No state law could completely legalize marijuana for medical purposes because the drug remains illegal under federal law, even for medical users," Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote for the majority.
"Nothing in the text or history of the Compassionate Use Act suggests the voters intended the measure to address the respective rights and obligations of employers and employees."
Advocates argued that the state legislature did exactly that, however, when it mentioned the workplace in the 2004 law refining the historic ballot initiative passed by voters in 1996.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in support of Ross, five current and former lawmakers quoted statutory language stating that employers were not obliged to tolerate marijuana use on the job. The lawmakers said that amounted to an implicit statement that people who used marijuana medically would, in fact, be expected to have jobs.
Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) immediately announced he would introduce legislation to make the right explicit.
"It really has less to do with whether someone is intoxicated at work than it has to do with the ability of someone to medicate themselves away from work and not during working hours," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, the Oakland advocacy group that represented Ross.