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Marijuana Quandry


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Marijuana Quandary

Providence, RI - A recent court decision in California highlights the ongoing dilemma faced by medical users of marijuana. Former Air Force mechanic Gary Ross sued after the telecommunications company he was working for fired him over use of the drug, even though he possessed a doctor's recommendation. Mr. Ross had been using marijuana under the state's 12-year-old Compassionate Use Act to ease chronic pain from a back injury. He did not seek to use the drug on the job but rather on his own time.

Nevertheless, in a 5-to-2 ruling, the California Supreme Court found that his employer had the right to fire him, which it did after he tested positive for marijuana use. (The drug can remain in a user's system for a lengthy period.)

This is unfair. As the dissenting justices pointed out, voters who approved the nation's first medical-marijuana law, in 1996, probably did not envision anyone's being forced to choose between a job and pain relief. But the California law does not (unlike Rhode Island's) spell out protections against employment discrimination. As a result of last month's ruling, California state legislator Mark Leno promised to introduce a bill that would protect employees from being fired for off-the-job marijuana use.

This only makes sense. American workers use quite an array of prescription drugs in their daily lives and enjoy workplace protections for doing so, as long as they perform their jobs adequately. Marijuana has proved effective in easing the suffering that can go along with multiple sclerosis, AIDS, cancer and numerous other maladies. The problem is that federal law continues to classify it as illegal. Until the federal stance is brought into harmony with state medical-use laws, sufferers will continue to face impossible predicaments.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court held that state laws regarding marijuana cannot protect users from prosecution. In California, federal agencies have lately been shutting down medical-marijuana dispensaries and charging those involved with felonies. The high court's position clearly informed the California ruling. Still, the state court at least left the door open to employment protections under an amended law.

Unfortunately, strengthening job protections will not overcome the main problem: How are medical users, even employed ones, to legally acquire marijuana?

Someone in Congress should muster the fortitude to sponsor national legislation. It need not go so far as to endorse a nationwide pot party. But it should defer to state efforts to permit compassionate use. Some who find relief from marijuana are among the most desperately ill. Often, they are terminal cases. In the face of changing views about the drug, the federal response has been needlessly heavy-handed. In any event, the law should be changed.

Source: The Providence Journal (RI)
Copyright: 2008 The Providence Journal Company
Contact: letters@projo.com
Website: projo.com Rhode Island news | projo.com | The Providence Journal
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