Can you Get Fired for Using Medical Marijuana?

Legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes has been occurring in states across the county. While people can now use medical cannabis, or even use marijuana recreationally in more places than ever before, without the fear of being arrested, there are new issues involving employment consequences for employees who test positive for marijuana.

tray-of-marijuana-1437843-mOne case that has been making headlines involved a recent decision by the Colorado Supreme Court, which ruled that a business has the right to terminate employees who use marijuana during non-working time, even if those employees have a current and valid prescription for medical cannabis use, according to a recent news article from the Los Angeles Times. While this may make sense to some, including members of Colorado’s highest court, it is dissimilar from other employment law decisions.

For example, as our Los Angeles employment attorneys can explain, if an employee has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and possesses a valid prescription for Adderall or Ritalin, two amphetamines listed on the United States Controlled Substances Act (USCSA), and uses the medication to treat their medical condition, it would be unheard of for an employer to fire an employee on that basis. However, in the case of medical marijuana, courts are willing to allow employers to terminate their employees for using marijuana on their days off.

It should be noted that this not just Colorado, as the California state supreme court has also ruled similarly. In 2008, the court held employers may terminate workers who test positive for marijuana. The court specifically held that protections for citizens in the medical marijuana legislation do not extend to the context of employment. Again, this is an example of a court treating medical marijuana different than other controlled substances. Alcohol, which most people consume solely for recreational purposes, may be consumed during one’s time off from work with no concern over termination, so long as that person is sober when they report to their scheduled shift.

One of the justifications state courts are making to allow employers to fire employees for otherwise completely legal marijuana use is because it is still illegal under federal law. Therefore, an employee still violated federal law and should not be protected from being terminated based upon a state law provision. However this approach is problematic for many reasons. First, it is undermining the state’s power to regulate affairs within state borders, which is something many people are trying to change. It is also indicative of the growing divide between the opponents of marijuana legalization and the increased support for legalization from the majority of the American population.

The plaintiff in this case was a quadriplegic employee worked as a customer service representative for a satellite television provider. He was a lawful user of medical marijuana and used medical cannabis on his off time as treatment for a painful muscle spasm condition. His employer gave him a drug test, which he allegedly failed, and he was immediately terminated from his employment. Many are arguing this ruling violated federal laws in place to protect Americans with disabilities.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

It’s legal to smoke pot in Colorado, but you can still get fired for it, June 15, 2015, LA Times

More Blog Entries:

McNaughton v. Charleston Charter School – Winning a Wrongful Termination Case, Feb. 7, 2015, California Employment Lawyer Blog