Can medical marijuana patients be fired from their jobs for legally using cannabis with a doctor’s authorization? That’s the question before the Washington Supreme Court, which heard arguments Tuesday from attorneys in the case of a medical marijuana patient fired by a telemarketing firm for failing a drug test in 2006.
Voters in 1998 would be “flabbergasted” to hear someone could be fired for legally using medical marijuana away from work, in this case to alleviate migraine headaches, argued Michael Subit, attorney for the woman called “Jane Roe” in court proceedings to protect her identity, reports Josh Farley at the Kitsap Sun.
“The Legislature understood (voters) were giving broad permission” to use marijuana medicinally, argued Subit, “…and that’s why they [legal medical marijuana patients]can’t be fired.”
But James Shore, attorney representing Teletech, claimed the law passed by voters provides only a defense in court to patients who have a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana. Shore said Washington’s medical cannabis law does not offer employment protection.
“An employer could permit it in the workplace if they want to,” Shore said of medical marijuana. “But they don’t have to.”
Shore read to the justices a section of the medical marijuana law that says it doesn’t accommodate medical marijuana use “in any place of employment.”
“There’s nothing ambiguous in the act,” Shore said. “It means what it says and it says what it means.”
But Subit said the doctor-approved use of medical marijuana is like using other pain-killing drugs, and asked how, if Jane Roe was using cannabis away from her place of employment and not working in a “safety sensitive” job, she could be dismissed when state law gives her the legal right to do so.
Roe sued in 2007 after being fired from Teletech’s call center in Bremerton, Washington, in late 2006. The case was thrown out by Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Sally F. Olsen in 2008.
The Tacoma-based Court of Appeals upheld Olsen’s decision, but Jane Roe appealed it to the state Supreme Court, which accepted the case last year for review.
Justices pelted both attorneys with questions Tuesday, the Sun reports. Newly elected justice Charlie Wiggins asked Subit how the medical marijuana law passed by voters extended to employment. Subit responded that the law was “very broad.”
Justice Tom Chambers pointed out to Shore that Jane Roe wanted to use medical marijuana at home, not while working. Shore responded that if any employee who’s used marijuana comes to work, “it’s in his or her system — and therefore in the workplace.” (By that same logic, everyone who had a couple beers the night before is coming to work drunk and/or bringing alcohol onto the job.)
Shore added that the Washington Legislature was trying to clarify the state’s medical marijuana law this session, including clarifying employment issues. If voters had been clear on the topic of employees using medicinal cannabis, he asked the justices, then why would lawmakers seek to clarify it?
Jane Roe decided to keep her real name out of the lawsuit, since marijuana is illegal for any purpose under federal law. Chief Justice Barbara Madsen brought up the point of the federal illegality of cannabis, but Subit responded that Roe wasn’t employed by a federal contractor.
The court is expected to render a decision on the case in coming months.