Tuesday, December 06, 2005

CA Supreme Court to Hear Medical Marijuana Job Discrimination Case

Drug Policy Alliance

On December 1, 2005, days after the Alliance filed an amicus (friend-of-the-court) letter urging the California Supreme Court to hear the case Ross v. Ragingwire Telecommunications, the Court agreed to do exactly that. The Alliance argued that Gary Ross, a medical marijuana patient under California's Compassionate Use Act, was wronged when he was fired by his employer after testing positive for marijuana. Mr. Ross used medical marijuana during non-working hours, off the employment premises. The outcome of the case will help determine whether - and to what extent - the Compassionate Use Act protects individuals qualified to perform essential job duties from being fired solely because their medical treatment includes physician-recommended marijuana.

Gary Ross treated his chronic pain and muscle spasms from a military injury with medical marijuana for two years before he was offered a job with Ragingwire Telecommunications. Ross provided the company with his physician’s recommendation but was fired after eight days on the job because he tested positive for marijuana in a pre-employment drug test. Ross filed suit alleging wrongful termination but the lower courts held the company did not discriminate against him based on his disability. The intermediate appellate court's opinion, which will be reviewed by the Supreme Court, focused largely on the illegality of marijuana under federal law.
For the last decade the Alliance has worked to assure the Compassionate Use Act is implemented and interpreted consistently with its core premise – that persons who can benefit from medical marijuana should not be discriminated against for their choice of medicine, and that public policy regarding medical marijuana should be grounded in science, reason, compassion and justice.

The Alliance’s amicus letter to the Supreme Court in the Ross case argues that the lower court’s decision reflects a serious misunderstanding of the Compassionate Use Act and of the relationship between state and federal law. The letter contends that excluding individuals from employment based on their medical treatment is unlawful disability discrimination, as the employer did not – and could not – establish that accommodating Mr. Ross’s disability would be an undue hardship for the company. The Alliance letter further outlines how the overly narrow reading of the Compassionate Use Act by the lower court squarely conflicts with state public policy and fundamental privacy rights protected by the California Constitution.

Now that the Court has agreed to hear the case, the Alliance will redouble its efforts and work with allied organizations in the fields of labor, disability rights, medicine and the law to submit additional friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Supreme Court to overturn the decision below and protect Mr. Ross – and similarly situated medical marijuana users – from discrimination in the employment context.


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