Despite California legalizing recreational marijuana back on January 1st, lawmakers are still working diligently to further improve the laws and regulations surrounding the newly-obtainable plant. One such issue, that has largely flown under the radar, is workplace discrimination against marijuana users.
Currently, there are no state-mandated protections for legal cannabis users, including medical marijuana patients. Despite the plant being authorized for medicinal use for over two decades, employees are still subject to workplace discrimination, due to the fact that most major employers remain compliant with federal law.
However, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for medical marijuana patients, thanks to a progressive new statute proposed by a couple of pro-cannabis lawmakers.
Some Much-Needed Protection
The bill, proposed by Assemblyman Rob Bonta and co-author Assemblyman Bill Quirk, plans to provide patients with workplace protections, provided they have the necessary paperwork to prove they are medical marijuana patients.
According to the Legislative Counsel’s Digest, Assembly Bill 2069 “would prohibit an employer from engaging in employment discrimination against a person on the basis of his or her status as, or positive drug test for cannabis by, a qualified patient or person with an identification card.”
The Digest contends that while cannabis is frowned upon, employees are able to use prescription drugs far more precarious than cannabis, specifically, opioid painkillers.
“Many employers nonetheless prohibit workers from using medical cannabis but allow them to use other, more dangerous and addictive drugs such as opiates when prescribed by their physicians,” the Digest noted.
The bill also argues that 11 states—Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island — already have laws protecting medical marijuana patients against such discrimination. Additionally, the bill explains that there remains “no scientific evidence exists that medical cannabis users are substandard employees.”
While the proposed bill aims to protect medical marijuana cardholders as much as possible, the Digest notes that employees who show up to work visibly impaired could still be subject to firing. In essence, the bill is aimed towards employees subjected to common workplace drug tests.
“It is not the intent of the Legislature to prohibit an employer from terminating the employment of, or taking other corrective action against, an employee who is impaired on the property or premises of the place of employment or during the hours of employment because of the medical use of medical cannabis,” the bill states.
Final Hit: California May End Workplace Discrimination Against Marijuana Users
While California has had medical marijuana laws dating back to 1996, workplace discrimination against those using THC (and to an extent CBD) has been an issue that has gone largely unresolved.
Furthermore, the issue was largely exacerbated following the results of the 2008 court case Ross vs RagingWire Telecommunications, where the California Supreme Court deemed hat medical marijuana patients could not be protected against workplace discrimination.
While Bonta’s bill could effectively end a majority of such instances, unfortunately, not all employees will receive such guarantees. Due to cannabis’ lingering Schedule I status under the federal law, employers receiving federal funding or licensing would still maintain the right to fire their employees if they fail a drug test. Medical patient or not.
Regardless, Assembly Bill 2069 would still be a huge win for medical marijuana patients, if ultimately approved.
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