California Bill Could Blunt Workplace Discrimination for Marijuana Patients

California’s passage of Proposition 64 legalized the recreational consumption of marijuana in Nov. 2016. But in the Golden State, you can still lose your job for medicating while off-duty – despite your physician’s recommendation.

A new piece of legislation seeks to mitigate those potential consequences and protect California’s medical marijuana patients.

Assembly Bill 2069, introduced last week by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-18th District) and co-authored by Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-20th District), seeks to “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.”

AB 2069 seeks to modify California’s anti-discrimination statute by increasing the list of protected classes to include the state’s estimated 1,526,250 medical marijuana patients.

In other words, if an employer identified a worker or a potential employee as a medical marijuana patient, or the employee had tested positive for THC metabolites, it would be illegal for the employer to:

“Refuse to hire or employ the person or to refuse to select the person for a training program leading to employment, or to bar or to discharge the person from employment or from a training program leading to employment, or to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.”

In addition to protecting California’s medical marijuana patients, AB 2069 incorporates an allowance that protects employers who might suffer a financial hit under federal law. Because marijuana remains a Schedule 1 narcotic under the federal Controlled Substance Act, companies that contract with the federal government must be able to ensure a drug-free workplace. Such companies would not be considered in violation of AB 2069 for terminating employees for off-work marijuana use.

A potential game-changer for California’s 1.5 million medical marijuana patients, the passage and implementation of AB 2069 would begin to erase the blight of workplace discrimination previously condoned by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Addressed and settled roughly 10-years ago, the precedent-setting case of Ross vs Ragingwire established that California’s medical marijuana patients could be subject to workplace discrimination.

According to California NORML, in 2008, “the California Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that employers can drug test and fire workers for using medical marijuana. The court dismissed a lawsuit brought by Gary Ross under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) arguing that he had been wrongfully denied employment by RagingWire Telecommunications on account of testing positive for past use of marijuana on a urine test.”

A leader of medical marijuana policy reform for decades, California first passed Proposition 215 on Nov. 5, 1996. More than 20 years later, California may be making progress in  protecting patients’ rights to medicate with marijuana while off-work.

Introduced on February 7, 2018,  AB 2069 is due to be heard before a committee on March 10 and can be tracked here.

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