Bay Area Lawmaker’s Bill Would Protect Medical Marijuana Patients From Losing Their Jobs

Photo Credit: Rich Pedroncelli

California could soon join the growing number of states that protect most medical marijuana patients from being fired from their jobs if they test positive for cannabis.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, on Wednesday introduced a bill that would prevent companies from refusing to employ people simply because they use cannabis to ease an injury or illness.

“To be discriminated against by your employer because of the type of medicine you use is both inhumane and wrong,” Bonta said.

California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. Medical cannabis is now permitted in 29 states plus Washington, D.C.

But only 11 states have laws in place to protect patients who consume marijuana – and California isn’t one of them.

Workers here can still get fired, or not hired, for having marijuana in their system. And unlike with alcohol or other drugs, marijuana be detected for days, weeks or even months, making existing drug tests ineffective at measuring whether workers were actually impaired by cannabis on the job.

The policy was solidified for medical patients in 2008, when the California Supreme Court ruled that a telecommunications company had a right to fire retired Air Force veteran Gary Ross over his medical marijuana use. The ruling was based, in part, on the fact that employment rights weren’t addressed in the state’s medical marijuana law.

Legislators passed a bill that year to overturn that ruling, despite opposition from law enforcement groups and the California Chamber of Commerce. But then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, saying he was concerned about interfering in employment decisions.

“Our current laws put workers with a medical recommendation for cannabis in a difficult bind,” said Jim Araby, executive director for the western branch of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which has a growing number of members in the cannabis industry.