Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

February 1, 2011
Leno bill aims to protect working medical marijuana patients

In 2008, then-state Assemblyman Mark Leno got a bill passed in both houses of the California Legislature to prohibit employees from firing workers simply because they were medical marijuana patients.

A little more than two years after the bill was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Leno, now a Democratic state senator from San Francisco, has introduced similar legislation.

Leno's Senate Bill 129 would prohibit employers from discriminating against workers with medical marijuana recommendations in hiring or firing decisions or in their rights to participate in the workplace.

The bill would allow employers to fire workers for impairment on the job. A summary of the bill said employers in fields, "in which medical cannabis-affected performance could endanger the health and safety of others," would be exempt from the legislation. Those who wouldn't be protected by the bill would include school bus drivers and other transportation workers, operators of heavy equipment and health care providers.

Leno introduced his earlier bill after the California Supreme Court ruled on behalf of employers in a landmark 2008 case on marijuana in the workplace. The court ruled that California's 1996 Proposition 215 medical marijuana law doesn't require employers to make accommodations or waive any workplace rules for legal cannabis users.

The Supreme Court case upheld the firing of a Carmichael man who was dismissed after failing a drug test as a condition of employment at a Sacramento firm, RagingWire Telecommunications. Ross had told his employer that he had a medical recommendation for back pain and spasms from injuries suffered in the U.S. Air Force.

Leno charged that the court's interpretation effectively said that California voters had approved the legal use of medical marijuana only "to benefit unemployed people." He said his bill will put it into law that "a medical marijuana patient has a right to employment in California."

The last time Leno introduced the marijuana employment measure he faced opposition from The California Chamber of Commerce. In an interview with The Sacramento Bee last year, Denise Davis, CalChamber's vice president for media relations said, "An employer's right to maintain a drug-free workplace is critical."

The Chamber later opposed last year's Proposition 19 initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use on grounds that it could subject employers to costly litigation, create a workforce of stoned employees and make it difficult for employers to fire workers without proof of impairment on the job.

Leno argued that improved drug-testing technologies can detect workers' current impairment for marijuana, making it easier for employers to enforce workplace standards.

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About Weed Wars

Peter Hecht

From its pot fields to politics, California is the epicenter for America's marijuana discussion. This blog covers news, trends and people of the California marijuana story.

Contact reporter Peter Hecht at phecht@sacbee.com

» See the sacbee.com marijuana topics page

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