The California State Supreme Court’s 5-2 decision last Thursday allowing employers to arbitrarily fire employees solely because they are legal medical marijuana patients represents an affront to reason, the law and the will of California voters.
To read the tortured logic supporting its decision, it almost looks as if the court knew all along how it would rule in the case of Gary Ross, a legally qualified medical marijuana patient who was fired by Sacramento-based RagingWire Telecommunications for testing positive for — you guessed it — marijuana.
It should have been an easy call. Ross, who used medical marijuana to treat chronic pain related to a 1983 back injury sustained in the Air Force, had broken no state law. There is no indication that Ross ever came to work impaired in any way, or that his choice of medicine had the slightest negative impact on his work performance.
Yet RagingWire claimed that because medical marijuana is illegal under federal law, it had the right to fire Ross, and the court agreed.
The court told Ross that while the law protected him from criminal penalties for using his medicine, he had no reason to believe he should be allowed to use his medicine “without hindrance or inconvenience.”
I don’t think many people would agree that working is a convenience; there’s a reason we call it “a living.”
Perhaps the court was using the word in the sense that food, shelter or access to medical care could be considered convenient, rather than the way using specious reasoning to rationalize an unjust decision might at times be convenient.
The court also appears much too easily confused by conflicts between federal policy, which views medical marijuana through the distorted lens of its “war on drugs,” and state law, which acknowledges the mountain of evidence supporting marijuana’s medical benefits for certain patients.
Apparently, that conflict gave the court just enough intellectual top cover to decide RagingWire had the right to “take illegal drug use into consideration” when firing Ross, and that his legal use of medical marijuana somehow qualified.
State legislators have already vowed to move quickly to amend the law to specifically protect medical marijuana patients from employment discrimination. Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, has said he expects to introduce legislation within weeks, and support is already building.
But employers don’t have to wait for the law to catch up with common sense. To fire a productive employee for using doctor-recommended medication during his off hours, in a manner that doesn’t interfere at all with his work, is simply dumb. RagingWire gave up a good employee for no good reason.
It doesn’t take a legal scholar to conclude that medical marijuana should be treated by employers like any other medication needed by an employee. Lots of drugs can be misused or abused, but a worker using medicine according to his doctor’s instructions shouldn’t be subject to arbitrary punishment.
Ross never wanted to use medical marijuana at work or to come into the office under the influence of any medication. He only wished to be allowed to treat his condition, on his own time, with the best medicine available — so that he could work.
With the state facing a $14 billion budget deficit, do we really want to force productive citizens out of their jobs and onto welfare and Medi-Cal?
The California State Supreme Court’s refusal to follow the law and protect patients like Ross is its shame. But that doesn’t mean sensible, compassionate employers need to share it.