The California Supreme Court has ruled that an employer may terminate an employee for using marijuana for medical purposes. In Ross v. RagingWire Telecommunications, Inc. the employee, Gary Ross, suffered from strain and muscle spasms in his back due to his service in the U.S. Air Force. The employer, RagingWire, offered Mr. Ross a job, but required him to take a drug test. Mr. Ross tested positive for marijuana use, and RagingWire terminated him as a result. Mr. Ross filed a lawsuit claiming that RagingWire discriminated against him on the basis of his disability and wrongfully terminated him.
Mr. Ross’s main argument was that The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which gives a person who uses marijuana for medical purposes a defense to certain crimes, required RagingWire to accommodate his disability by permitting him to use marijuana to treat his pain. Mr. Ross argued, "Just as it would violate [discrimination laws] to fire an employee who uses insulin or Zoloft . . . it violates [discrimination] laws to terminate an employee who uses medicine deemed legal by the California electorate . . ." The Court rejected Mr. Ross’s argument, finding that the Compassionate Use Act did not legalize marijuana use per se, but merely provided a defense to criminal charges under particular circumstances. The Court acknowledged that marijuana still had a potential for abuse and that employers continued to have a legitimate interest in whether an employee uses the drug. The Court declined to extend the protections of the Compassionate Use Act any further than the plain language of the Act and into the employer-employee relationship. Therefore, the Court dismissed Mr. Ross’s lawsuit.
Ross v. RagingWire reaffirms that California law permits employers to require preemployment drug testing and take illegal drug use into consideration in making employment decisions. Certain types of drug testing still carry with them legal risks, so it is prudent for employers to check the specifics of their program with competent legal counsel.