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State Bill Protects Employment Rights of Medical Marijuana Patients


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Sacramento, CA - Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and several co-authors introduced a bill yesterday that would protect the rights of hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients in California from employment discrimination.

The bill leaves intact existing state law prohibiting medical marijuana consumption at the workplace and protects employers from liability by carving out an exception for safety-sensitive positions. The employment rights bill, which is being co-authored by Assemblymembers Patty Berg (D-Eureka), Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Lori Saldaña (D-San Diego), is in response to a January decision by the California Supreme Court in Ross v. RagingWire.

National medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) argued the case before the court and is now a sponsor of the bill.

"The California Supreme Court decision said that an employer may fire
someone solely because they use medical marijuana outside the
workplace," said Assemblymember Leno. "Long ago, the legislature
prohibited patient use of medical cannabis in the workplace or during
working hours," continued Leno. "AB 2279 is merely an affirmation of the
intent of the voters and the legislature that medical marijuana patents
need not be unemployed to benefit from their medicine."

On January 24, in a 5-2 decision, the California Supreme Court upheld
the lower court's ruling that denied qualified patients a remedy from
employment discrimination, based either on their status as a patient or
a positive test for marijuana. The plaintiff in the case, Gary Ross, is
a 46-year old disabled veteran who was a systems engineer living
Carmichael, California, when he was fired from his job in 2001 at
RagingWire Telecommunications for testing positive for marijuana. "It's
important that we not allow wholesale employment discrimination in
California," said former plaintiff Gary Ross. "If the court is going to
ignore the need for protection, then it's up to the legislature to
ensure that productive workers like me are free from discrimination."

The decision in /Ross v. RagingWire /closed the door on redress through
the courts, shifting the debate to the state legislature. California is
not alone in its attempt to affirm employment protections for medical
marijuana patients. Both Oregon and Hawaii have introduced similar
legislation aimed at clarifying the intent of the state legislatures.
This recent multi-state effort builds on existing legislation adopted in
ten out of twelve medical marijuana states, including California, which
already sought to protect patients from employment discrimination. "We
welcome and strongly endorse this clarification from the legislature,"
said ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes. "Despite the ill-conceived ruling by
the California Supreme Court, the intent of state legislatures has been
to recognize the civil rights of patients and to offer them reasonable

Before the court made its final decision, Ross enjoyed the support of
ten state and national medical organizations, all of the original
co-authors of the Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420), and disability
rights groups. Since it began recording instances of employment
discrimination in 2005, ASA has received hundreds of such reports from
all across California. Employers that have either fired patients from
their job, threatened them with termination, or denied them employment
because of patient status or because of a positive test for marijuana,
include Costco Wholesale, UPS, Foster Farms Dairy, DirecTV, the San
Joaquin Courier, Power Auto Group, as well as several construction
companies, hospitals, and various trade union employers.

Source: Americans for Safe Access
Copyright: 2008 ASA
Contact: kris@SafeAccessNow.org
Website: ASA*:*Advancing Legal Medical Marijuana Therapeutics and Research
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