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Even in California, Pot Prescription Is No Shield for Positive Drug Test, Court Rules

January 25, 2008
Related Topics: Medical Benefits Law, Health and Wellness, Latest News

An employee whose doctor recommended that he use marijuana cannot claim disability-based discrimination against an employer that fired him for testing positive for drug consumption, a split California Supreme Court ruled Thursday, January 24.


The plaintiff in Gary Ross v. Ragingwire Telecommunications Inc. claimed that his former employer violated California’s anti-discrimination law when the employer fired him rather than make accommodations for a disability.

At issue in the case was whether California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996 would override an employer’s policy against drug use, court records show. The 1996 act approved by voters provides a criminal defense in cases where a doctor recommends marijuana use for medical purposes.

But nothing in the act “suggests the voters intended the measure to address the respective rights and duties of employers and employees,” justices stated in the 5-2 decision. The state high court therefore upheld lower court rulings that found the plaintiff could not use the act as an argument to pursue a disability discrimination lawsuit against his employer.

Ross did not state what accommodation he sought, so the court justices inferred he desired that the employer waive its drug policy to allow his use of marijuana at home, the opinion states.

Ross suffers from back strain, muscle spasms and chronic pain from an injury suffered while serving in the Air Force. The injury qualifies him as a “qualified individual” under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, court records state.

But he was terminated from his job after he failed a drug test shortly after he was hired in 2001 as a lead system operator for Ragingwire Telecommunications.

The court’s minority found that the majority’s decision lacked compassion for holding that an employer may fire an ailing employee when their medical marijuana use does not impair their job performance or their employer’s interests.

Filed by Roberto Ceniceros of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail


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