If you use cannabis on your own time in a state where it is legal, should that be grounds for terminating your employment or rejecting your application for a job? Advocates are starting to say no, and demanding action to protest workers’ rights to use cannabis without the fear of the sack and unemployment.
Some states have already made progress in this direction. Yet California, which led the way toward opening legal space for cannabis with the Propositio 215 medical marijuana initiative in 1996, is not among them. Neither 215 nor the Prop 64 adult-use legalization initiative exactly 20 years later provided any such protections.
California Out of the Vanguard
California’s Supreme Court actually ruled on the question in 2008, finding that Prop 215 does not protect workers’ rights. The high court dismissed a suit brought by Gary Ross, an Air Force veteran who suffered from a back injury sustained during his military service. Ross sued under the state’s Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA), charging that he had been wrongfully denied employment by RagingWire Telecommunications after testing positive for cannabis use. The court found that 215 did not create a general right to use medical marijuana, but only protected patients from criminal prosecution.
Later that year, the State Legislature passed a law to correct this situation, making it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers in non-safety-sensitive jobs for using medical marijuana. However, it was vetoed by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has launched a campaign to instate employment protections for cannabis users.
Progress in 15 States
Fortunately, things are looking a little better elsewhere in the United States. Fifteen states have passed laws making it illegal for an employer to discriminate against either an employee or job applicant who uses medical marijuana as permitted by state law. These states