|Graphic: Working World|
Should companies be able to fire employees for using medical marijuana — at home, with no effects on job performance — even in states where the medicinal use of cannabis is legal?
Washington judges and lawmakers will be wrestling with that question next month as the state Supreme Court hears the case of a woman fired for legally using pot medicinally, and the Legislature looks at a bill to expand patient protections in the state’s 12-year-old medical marijuana law, reports Vanessa Ho of the Seattle P.I.
The case before the high court involves a woman suing her former employer after she failed a drug test and was fired from a customer-service job in Bremerton. The woman, using “Jane Roe” as a pseudonym in court records, was using marijuana authorized by her doctor for debilitating migraines.
The woman is using an alias because marijuana remains illegal for any use under federal law.
The Court of Appeals ruled against the woman last year, saying Washington’s medical marijuana law protects patients only from criminal prosecutions, not in the workplace.
But in asking the high court for review, the woman’s attorney urged that the medical marijuana law — passed by voters in 1998 as Initiative 682 — allowed for broader protections.
|Attorney Michael Subit: “It did not negatively effect her ability to work or take care of her children”|
Attorney Michael Subit wrote that voters and lawmakers who enacted the Medical Use of Marijuana Act would be “flabbergasted if qualified patients could lose their jobs simply for using medical marijuana at home in accordance with the Act.”
Subit’s client had been hired in 2006 by TeleTech Customer Care Management, based in Colorado, to do customer service via phone and emails at an office in Bremerton. The company had a drug-test policy; the woman told them upfront she would fail it, and offered to provide documentation for her medical marijuana use.
She took the test, started work, and was fired about a week later, because she tested positive for cannabis.
“She used marijuana in such small doses that it had no side effects,” Subit said. “It did not negatively affect her ability to work or take care of her children.”
He said the woman never used marijuana on the job or in front of her kids, and was not impaired at work.
The woman had suffered from chronic pain, nausea, blurred vision and light sensitivity for years, and her symptoms didn’t subside until her doctor authorized medical marijuana, according to Subit.
The issue hinges on the intent of the law, which says “humanitarian compassion” makes allowing medical marijuana necessary, and that patients with terminal or debilitating illnesses “shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege.”
The Court of Appeals ruled that the “average informed voter” would understand that the law provides only one protection — from criminal prosecutions. But Subit said most people would think employment is considered a “privilege.”
The law balances the rights of patients with workplace concerns by not requiring employers to allow on-site marijuana use, according to Subit.
|Alison Holcomb, ACLU of Washington: “Patients suffering from terminal and debilitating medical conditions shouldn’t be forced to choose between a job and a therapy that helps them”|
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last week filed a brief [PDF] in support of the woman, saying she should be treated the same as any other worker who takes a prescribed medication for a debilitating condition.
“Patients suffering from terminal and debilitating medical conditions shouldn’t be forced to choose between a job and a therapy that helps them,” said Alison Holcomb, ACLU of Washington’s drug policy director.
The court is expected to hear oral arguments on January 18.
Meanwhile, in the Legislature, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles is expected to introduce a bill [PDF] clarifying Washington’s medical marijuana law.
The bill seeks to ban employers from firing — or refusing to hire — marijuana patients, solely because of off-site, medicinal use of cannabis. Exceptions would include if the workplace involves physically hazardous or public safety duties.
The bill would also provide protections in housing and parenting plants. It would prohibit medical marijuana use from being a factor in refusing housing or restricting parental rights.