Pubdate: Wed, 26 Feb 2008
Source: Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)
Contact:  2008 MediaNews Group, Inc.
Author: Thadeus Greenson, The Times-Standard
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


If Eureka Assemblywoman Patty Berg has her way, California employers 
won't be able to fire employees based on their use of medical marijuana.

Assembly Bill 2279, introduced to the assembly last week by 
Assemblyman Mark Leno and co-authored by Berg, aims to prohibit 
employers from letting go of employees for using medical marijuana 
away from the workplace in compliance with state law. The bill is a 
direct response to a recent California Supreme Court ruling, and is 
drawing praise from some local attorneys.

The Supreme Court voted last month to uphold a Sacramento 
telecommunications company's firing of Gary Ross, who flunked a 
company-ordered drug test, but had a medical marijuana card 
authorizing him to legally use marijuana to treat a back injury 
sustained while serving in the Air Force.

The company, Ragingwire Inc., successfully argued it rightfully fired 
Ross because marijuana is illegal under federal law, which does not 
recognize medical marijuana laws in California and 11 other states.

"No state law could completely legalize marijuana for medical 
purposes because the drug remains illegal under federal law," Justice 
Kathryn Werdegar wrote for the 5-2 majority.

The decision drew the ire of some local attorneys, and Leno, who 
vowed to introduce a bill to address the issue.

"AB 2279 is merely an affirmation of the intent of the voters and the 
Legislature that medical marijuana patients need not be unemployed to 
benefit from their medicine," Leno said in a news release last week.

Berg had a similar take, saying the bill simply clarifies existing 
law, as laid out in Proposition 215 -- The Compassionate Use Act 
passed by voters in 1996 -- and Senate Bill 420, which was signed 
into law in 2003.

"I don't think Californians intended for workers to be unfairly 
targeted for medical marijuana use," Berg said in a statement 
e-mailed to the Times-Standard. "AB 2279 clarifies the law, and I 
support that."

While prohibiting companies from firing workers for using medical 
marijuana away from work, the bill would leave intact existing state 
laws that prohibit medical marijuana consumption at the workplace.

Eureka attorney Neal Sanders, who specializes in medical marijuana 
cases, said the bill would essentially put medical marijuana patients 
on the same footing they were on before last month's court decision.

"It's an issue that needs to be taken care of legislatively," Sanders 
said. "It's gone as far as it can with the courts, and the courts 
don't seem to be sympathetic."

Local attorney Greg Allen, who has experience handling marijuana 
cases, described the court's decision as a "complete travesty," but 
commended the Legislature for taking up the issue.

Allen said the Supreme Court ruling failed to uphold California law. 
He said a section of the state constitution requires public agencies 
to follow state law, even if it conflicts with federal law. In this 
case, Allen said, the court didn't rule that Proposition 215 or SB 
420 were unconstitutional, it just shrugged aside their intent in 
favor of federal law.

"It's obvious that the intent of these was not to make users of 
medical cannabis unemployed or unemployable," Allen said.

Sanders had a similar take, saying he doesn't see what federal law 
has to do with the California case.

"I don't see the distinction," Sanders said. "Yes, it's illegal under 
federal law, but how does that impact an employee here in California, 
that works here in California, that got a prescription under 
California state law?"

In Ross' case, Ragingwire said it fired him because, among other 
reasons, the company feared it could be the target of a federal raid.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the Western 
Electrical Contractors Association Inc. joined Ragingwire's case, 
arguing that companies could lose federal contracts and grants if 
they allowed employees to use marijuana, even if that usage were for 
medical purposes and occurred outside of the workplace.

Allen said the way the whole issue has played out through the courts, 
and now the state Legislature, shows the ongoing need for the system 
of checks and balances that is in place.

The ball, Allen said, is now in the legislators' court.

"I think the Legislature is absolutely doing the right thing," Allen 
said. "I think that medical cannabis patients all over the state 
should be grateful to Ms. Berg and the other legislators."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom