Medical Marijuana Users Can be Fired, High Court Rules

The state Supreme Court has ruled that an employer can fire a worker who uses medical marijuana, even when the worker uses the drug at home and experiences no side effects on the job.

In a decision issued Thursday, the high court found that the state’s medical marijuana law, which protects patients from criminal prosecutions, allows no recourse in employment disputes.

“MUMA (Medical Use of Marijuana Act) does not provide such an unlimited right,” the court wrote, with Justice Tom Chambers dissenting.

The case stemmed from a woman’s lawsuit against a customer-service firm in Bremerton, which fired her when she failed a drug test. The woman told the company, Colorado-based Teletech Customer Care Management, that she used marijuana prescribed by her doctor for debilitating migraines.

But the company required a drug test for her employment. The woman was hired in 2006, failed the test, then was fired about a week later. She sued,using the pseudonym “Jane Roe,” because medical marijuana use remains illegal under federal law.

In petitioning the court for review, Michael Subit, the woman’s attorney, argued that voters who approved the medical marijuana law in 1998 had intended for broader protections.

The law says “humanitarian compassion” makes allowing use of the drug necessary, and that patients with terminal or debilitating illnesses “shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege.”

Subit wrote that voters would be “flabbergasted if qualified patients could lose their jobs simply for using medical marijuana at home in accordance with the act.” His client had suffered no negative side effects on her ability to work or care for her kids, he said.

But the justices disagreed.

“We hold that MUMA does not provide a private cause of action for discharge of an employee who uses medical marijuana, either expressly or impliedly, nor does MUMA create a clear public policy that would support a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of such a policy,” the court wrote.

Dissenting judge Chambers said the law had intended to treat marijuana like any other medication.

“Roe seems to be exactly the sort of person the people intended to protect,” he wrote.

“She suffered from debilitating migraine headaches that resisted treatment. A doctor advised her that the potential benefits of marijuana likely outweighed the health risks. Her migraines subsided enough that she could seek and find a job.”

Chambers also urged the Legislature to “review and improve” the law.

The Legislature passed a medical marijuana bill expanding upon the law this spring. But most of the protections were vetoed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“This case, along with many others, shows that the act is in need of legislative review,” Chambers wrote.

– Article from The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

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