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No Job Protection for WA Medical Marijuana Patients, Court Rules

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #688)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

Employers in Washington state can fire employees who fail a drug test, even if they have a valid recommendation to use medical marijuana, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday. The ruling came in the case of a Bremerton woman who was fired from her job after testing positive for pot, although she had a recommendation to use marijuana for migraine headaches.

Taking prescribed Adderall, Oxycontin, or Vicodin? No problem. But medical marijuana can get you fired. (Image via
In the case, Jane Roe v. TeleTech Customer Care Management, the anonymous plaintiff was pulled out of a training class and fired in October 2006 because she failed a pre-employment drug test. Her attorney argued that the Washington state medical marijuana law implicitly required employers to accommodate medical marijuana use outside the workplace.

But in an 8-1 decision, the state Supreme Court disagreed. The majority noted that the state law explicitly allows employers to forbid on-the-job medical marijuana use, but says nothing about medical marijuana use outside the workplace.

"We hold that [the Washington Medical Use of Marijuana Act] 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," wrote Justice Charles Wiggins for the majority.

But in his dissent, Justice Tom Roberts noted that under the medical marijuana law, qualified patients "shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, for such actions." Roberts added that, "Roe seems to be exactly the sort of person the people intended to protect... Neither I nor the law would require employers to employ drug impaired workers. The law is intended to treat marijuana like any other medication."

If the state high court will not protect the rights of Roe, Roberts wrote, the legislature should step up and do so. "To that end, I urge the legislature to thoughtfully review and improve the act."

But that's no easy process. In California, which has seen a similar state court ruling gutting the employment rights of medical marijuana users, a legislative effort to provide a fix died in Sacramento last week.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


kickback (not verified)

How are random drug testing corporations going to react once Cannabis is legalized? This year? Next year? Once corporations face a revolt from its employees concerning terminations over a legal substance, difficulty hiring new people, low moral and disgust, then maybe things will change for people that seek employment at those corporations. Government jobs as well. Can cops go home and smoke some Kush ? Ambulance drivers smoking Trainwreck over the weekend? Sobriety on the job is easily detectable. That should be the standard.

Sun, 06/12/2011 - 1:42am Permalink
Anonymous1 (not verified)

In reply to by kickback (not verified)

Unfortunately the test currently used for cannabis does not detect impairment.  Only the presence of canabinoids and those hang around long after you are no longer impaired.

Sat, 06/18/2011 - 2:18am Permalink
Anonymous1 (not verified)

So all three states on the west coast strike out when it comes to protecting workers rights with respect of the use of medical cannabis and employment. Now in all 3 states the Supreme Court of that state has said that they do not view medical cannabis as the same as other medicines. You don't get fired for testing positive for a prescribed narcotic when you are not under the influence, but you do if you test postitive for recommended medical cannabis. All 3 states need to fix that part of their medical marijuana laws.

Sat, 06/18/2011 - 2:16am Permalink
Zyworski (not verified)

Businesses can still cite Federal law as justification for testing, but what if they get their money from state contracts, but discriminate against a state citizen for something the state now considers legal? I don't know enough about state laws regarding discrimination, but someone who does should try to find an angle of attack to remove pre employment testing employers from the authorized vendor list.

There is also privacy laws regarding ones medical condition, and employer can learn of ones medical condition via drug testing and violate privacy laws. Just because one lawsuit was lost does not mean the issue is dropped, we just need to find a person with a different standing before the court.

Wed, 11/07/2012 - 6:46am Permalink

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