It looks like California has backed itself into a bit of a smoke-filled corner – again. Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, but one state senator says that legality is worthless to about half the residents there. That’s because it’s currently legal for any California company to fire any employee who tests positive for pot.
California Democratic state Sen. Mark Leno says that his state’s legalization of marijuana was never meant to apply only to the state’s unemployed – which at face value, seems to make a lot of sense. Do medical-marijuana patients have a right to work or not?
This is not the first time that Leno has introduced a bill that bans employers from firing medipot smokers. His 2007 bill was very similar, and it even passed the legislature. But then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it, saying employment protection was not a goal of Prop. 215, which legalized marijuana in California. Schwarzenegger also said he was concerned about allowing marijuana to affect the decisions that employers make.
But can you really have it both ways? If medical marijuana is so therapeutic, then should only those who do not work be able to benefit from it? How do the rights of legitimate medipot smokers compare to disabled people who require certain accommodations?
Yes, much of this boils down to what type of job a person is performing. And Leno’s bill addresses this. The bill states that jobs that are “safety sensitive,” such as those performed by doctors and heavy equipment operators, would not be covered.
And that’s exactly the hole that California (and the other 14 states that have legalized medical marijuana) has dug themselves. Could you imagine all of the lawsuits that would be held up in state court regarding which jobs are “safety sensitive?”
Much of that argument, however, is somewhat moot, for one big reason. Leno’s bill states that employers could still fire employees for smoking pot at work, or being under the influence of pot at work. If you ask me, that seems very similar to the way alcohol is handled. Is the jump to medipot really that big, in terms of how the two are handled?
Oh, yes, there is that one small issue: marijuana use is still illegal under Federal law. And, the California Supreme Court addressed that issue in 2008, not long after Leno’s first bill was quashed by Schwarzenegger. The court voted 5-2 that Prop. 215 did not supersede Federal law when it came to the ability of employers to fire their workers for violating Federal drug laws.
There does seem to be somewhat of a disconnect in California, doesn’t there? Just imagine if California would have passed Proposition 19 last year, legalizing marijuana for recreational use. It was voted down by a small majority, 53.5 percent.
Marijuana is becoming more and more legal/accepted, especially in California. Before Schwarzenegger left office, he signed SB 1449, which made the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil infraction instead of a criminal misdemeanor.
Will Federal law always trump state law, and if so, how much power does the state, and its voters, hold? How will employers and employees be affected in the future? Will the positive effects of medipot/legalized pot outweigh the negatives?
If you have an opinion, feel free to share below.