Washington case seeks to clarify whether medical marijuana patients have right to work

(Seattle P-I) The case before the court involves a woman suing her former employer, after she failed a drug test and was fired from a customer-service job in Bremerton. The woman, using “Jane Roe” as a pseudonym in court records, was using marijuana prescribed by her doctor for debilitating migraines.

But in petitioning the high court for review, the woman’s attorney argued that the law — passed by voters in 1998 as Initiative 682 — allowed for broader protections. Michael Subit wrote that voters and lawmakers who enacted the Medical Use of Marijuana Act would be “flabbergasted if qualified patients could lose their jobs simply for using medical marijuana at home in accordance with the Act.”

Subit’s client had been hired in 2006 by Colorardo-based TeleTech Customer Care Management to do customer service via phone and emails at a Bremerton office. The company had a drug-test policy; the woman said she would fail it and offered to provide medical documentation for her marijuana use.

She took the test, started work, and was fired about a week later, because she tested positive for cannabis.

This is case law that has been settled on the rest of the West Coast – California’s Ragingwire and Oregon’s Columbia Forest Products cases have decided that the medical marijuana laws in those states do not protect the right of workers using medical marijuana to be gainfully employed. Since the laws say employers do not need to accommodate the medical use of marijuana, they do not need to, even if that use takes place off-hours, off-site, and has no bearing on their fitness for work the next day.

Michigan still has a pending Supreme Court case for a medical marijuana patient fired from work at a Wal-Mart. However, Michigan’s law provides for stronger employment protections than Washington’s law. Arizona, the newest medical marijuana state, provides explicit protections for workers by stating that a positive test for marijuana metabolites alone are not sufficient cause for discriminating against patients in the workplace. These types of protections are being added to the newest bills an initiatives being considered in other states, for, indeed, nobody expected medical marijuana patients to be forced to choose between health care and employment.

Unfortunately, Washington, Oregon, and California, having been the first medical marijuana states, are stuck with laws that hadn’t anticipated this conflict between medicine and employment. Let’s hope the Washington decision favors the patients and that activists in medical marijuana continue to push for recognition of employment, transplant, child custody, and driving rights for medical marijuana patients.

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