Marijuana Gets Man High Court Hearing in California

Hippies, stoners, thugs, liberals - no matter how you label them, some believe that marijuana-smokers make up a significant minority of the American population. And, especially in the eleven states where marijuana has been legalized for medical purposes, none of the traditional labels assigned to pot-smokers applies.

Consider the case of Gary Ross, a 45-year old ex-Air Force member who lives in California. According to reports from the Associated Press, Ross injured his back in 1983, while in the Air Force. Since then, he reportedly faced continual back pain from the injury until 1999, when his doctor recommended smoking marijuana as a means of relief.

Sources report that Ross found true pain relief with marijuana, and has continued using it for medical purposes.

So what's the problem? Even though California law has allowed patients with doctor recommendations to smoke marijuana since 1996, federal law prohibits all use, production, and possession of the drug. This can cause serious conflicts.

When Ross started a job with RagingWire, Inc. as a computer technician, he was reportedly required to take a drug test. Confident that he would test positive for THC, the active compound in marijuana, Ross reportedly submitted a letter from his doctor along with his results.

Eight days after he began working, Ross was fired.

Apparently, despite the medical reasons for Ross's positive drug test, RagingWire acted in accordance with federal law rather than the law of the state. Ross then sued his employer for discrimination under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which does not allow employers to discriminate against workers based on disabilities.

Since Ross's injury is a disability, he contends, any action taken because of his treatment of that injury violates his rights. But so far, he hasn't had much luck.

Two lower courts in California have reportedly ruled in favor of RagingWire, upholding the company's decision to fire Ross based on his violation of federal law. Now, the case has landed at the California Supreme Court. And the clock's ticking.

The state Supreme Court has 90 days to decide whether or not Ross's termination was legal, a decision that could have a significant legal impact.

Reports indicate that the nonprofit Americans for Safe Access, an organization dedicated to the legalization of marijuana, has received hundreds of complaints like Ross's in the past two years. In the ten other states where pot is used for medical purposes, similar legal issues are beginning to come to light.

Some of the issues involved in the case include:

  • State law only allows doctors to "recommend," not "prescribe" marijuana; therefore pot may not enjoy the same protections as prescribed painkillers.
  • Employers could face liability for accidents that occurred because workers were high, and could risk various penalties.
  • Federal law does not explicitly preempt state law; that is, federal anti-marijuana law does not out-right declare that employers should adhere to its standards and not those of the state.

Many medical and nonprofit organizations on both sides of the debate are filing friend-of-the-court documents with California's high court. The next three months should prove very interesting for Gary Ross and others whose jobs-and physical comfort-depend on the use of marijuana.


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