Can Employers Fire a Medical Marijuana Patient for Lighting Up California
It looks like California has backed itself into a bit of a smoke-filled corner again. Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, but one state senator says that legality is worthless to about half the residents there. That’s because it’s currently legal for any California company to fire any employee who tests positive for pot. California Democratic state Sen. Mark Leno says that his state’s legalization of marijuana was never meant to apply only to the state’s unemployed which at face value, seems to make a lot of sense. Do medical-marijuana patients have a right to work or not?
This is not the first time that Leno has introduced a bill that bans employers from firing medipot smokers. His 2007 bill was very similar, and it even passed the legislature. But then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it, saying employment protection was not a goal of Prop. 215, which legalized marijuana in California. Schwarzenegger also said he was concerned about allowing marijuana to affect the decisions that employers make.
But can you really have it both ways? If medical marijuana is so therapeutic, then should only those who do not work be able to benefit from it? How do the rights of legitimate medipot smokers compare to disabled people who require certain accommodations? Yes, much of this boils down to what type of job a person is performing. And Leno’s bill addresses this. The bill states that jobs that are “safety sensitive,” such as those performed by doctors and heavy equipment operators, would not be covered.
Michigans medical pot law takes center stage in federal court
As most of the state was preparing for the blizzard that buried much of the state in snow Tuesday, advocates for the state medical marijuana law’s confidentiality provisions were in federal court in Grand Rapids trying to quash a federal subpoena for medical information in the possession of the Michigan Department of Community Health.
Both state and federal authorities were in court on Tuesday as well as advocates for Michigan Association of Compassion Clubs arguing over whether the MDCH can release information about seven patients/caregivers without violating the law’s confidentiality clause. The Medical Marijuana Act makes it a crime to release information contained in the confidential records turned over to the Michigan Department of Community Health as part of getting a patient card.
Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette has said he will release the information if the federal courts issue an order directing the records be released and preventing officials from being held liable for the release under Michigan law. Schuette opposed the 2008 ballot initiative which created the law.
Jamie Lowell from MACC had this to say to the Grand Rapids Press about the potential impact of releasing confidential medical records.
“When you get the application, you are under the impression all of the information will remain confidential,” he said Tuesday, outside of U.S. District Court. “People aren’t going to have that peace of mind, and they’ll think twice.”
Federal officials, however, say MACC has no business in a legal dispute between the state and federal governments.
[Assistant U.S. Attorney John] Bruha said that medical-marijuana advocates have built a case based on “rather vague confidentiality provisions,” in the law. The federal government could legally obtain the information on specified patients through a third party, or the state, which does not violate constitutional rights against self-incrimination because “the target is not being forced or compelled to do anything,” he said.
Marijuana in the Workplace?
Thank God for the Golden State: It's perfectly legal to smoke the green stuff, even on a daily basis, if you have a doctor's recommendation. But your boss might not agree that bud is the best influence for her workforce. As it stands, she can fire you for smoking medical pot (or she can decline to hire you too).
But a California lawmaker wants to change that. State Sen. Mark Leno has proposed a law that would prohibit most employers from firing you if you test positive for marijuana. The Bay Area Democrat tried it once before. His 2007 bill was rejected by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Maybe he has a chance with Jerry Brown, although we must say that Brown has become a law-and-order guy since he spent time in the Attorney General's office.
Leno's bill "would exempt from protection workers such as doctors, nurses, school bus drivers and heavy equipment operators who hold so-called safety sensitive jobs." Of course, there might be one more hurdle: Federal law, which still says employers can fire people for weed use. And weed use is still illegal on a national level. Will this trump a California law?
Leno bill aims to protect working medical marijuana patients
In 2008, then-state Assemblyman Mark Leno got a bill passed in both houses of the California Legislature to prohibit employees from firing workers simply because they were medical marijuana patients.
A little more than two years after the bill was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Leno, now a Democratic state senator from San Francisco, has introduced similar legislation.
Leno's Senate Bill 129 would prohibit employers from discriminating against workers with medical marijuana recommendations in hiring or firing decisions or in their rights to participate in the workplace.
The bill would allow employers to fire workers for impairment on the job. A summary of the bill said employers in fields, "in which medical cannabis-affected performance could endanger the health and safety of others," would be exempt from the legislation. Those who wouldn't be protected by the bill would include school bus drivers and other transportation workers, operators of heavy equipment and health care providers.
Leno introduced his earlier bill after the California Supreme Court ruled on behalf of employers in a landmark 2008 case on marijuana in the workplace. The court ruled that California's 1996 Proposition 215 medical marijuana law doesn't require employers to make accommodations or waive any workplace rules for legal cannabis users.
The Supreme Court case upheld the firing of a Carmichael man who was dismissed after failing a drug test as a condition of employment at a Sacramento firm, RagingWire Telecommunications. Ross had told his employer that he had a medical recommendation for back pain and spasms from injuries suffered in the U.S. Air Force.
Leno charged that the court's interpretation effectively said that California voters had approved the legal use of medical marijuana only "to benefit unemployed people." He said his bill will put it into law that "a medical marijuana patient has a right to employment in California."
The last time Leno introduced the marijuana employment measure he faced opposition from The California Chamber of Commerce. In an interview with The Sacramento Bee last year, Denise Davis, CalChamber's vice president for media relations said, "An employer's right to maintain a drug-free workplace is critical."
The Chamber later opposed last year's Proposition 19 initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use on grounds that it could subject employers to costly litigation, create a workforce of stoned employees and make it difficult for employers to fire workers without proof of impairment on the job.
Leno argued that improved drug-testing technologies can detect workers' current impairment for marijuana, making it easier for employers to enforce workplace standards.
Sask Delegate Sparks Debate Over Medical Marijuana
While members of Parliament head back to the hill Monday, medical marijuana advocates from across the country are following suite. What began as a Facebook support group for medical marijuana users, has grown into a lobby group with a country-wide network and Monday members of the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations lobby group are taking their message to the top.
“We’re going to occupy the public gallery in the House of Commons. Our goal is to respectfully follow the rules of Parliament; exercise our right to observe those who are deciding our fate; speak publicly about our situation and lobby for change,” said Saskatchewan’s only delegate Caleb Hubbell.
When Hubbell was six, he was diagnosed with a degenerative bone disease and by 12 had severe arthritis. He was managing his conditions until a couple years ago when he was crushed by a sheet of steel while on the job and hasn’t worked since. “Doctors had me on such a high narcotic painkiller regime. I was taking morphine patches, delotid and other medication and was getting heartburn from all the pills. And then I was having problems sleeping because of all the pills and my body started shutting down after about two years on pills.”
Marijuana grow houses are a growing controversy at Denver City Council
In the fall of 2009, Denver City Council rep Charlie Brown realized that the city had to get a handle on the booming medical marijuana dispensary industry -- and even as the Colorado Legislature was just starting to discuss MMJ, Denver was signing off on its ordinance. But now the city needs to revise its Denver Medical Marijuana Code to deal with certain provisions of the state law and the growing controversy over grow houses.
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