Thursday, February 14, 2008

*Editorial: Marijuana quandary*


A recent court decision in California highlights the ongoing dilemma faced

by medical users of marijuana. Former Air Force mechanic Gary Ross sued

after the telecommunications company he was working for fired him over use

of the drug, even though he possessed a doctor's recommendation. Mr. Ross

had been using marijuana under the state's 12-year-old Compassionate Use Act

to ease chronic pain from a back injury. He did not seek to use the drug on

the job but rather on his own time.


Nevertheless, in a 5-to-2 ruling, the California Supreme Court found that

his employer had the right to fire him, which it did after he tested

positive for marijuana use. (The drug can remain in a user's system for a

lengthy period.)


This is unfair. As the dissenting justices pointed out, voters who approved

the nation's first medical-marijuana law, in 1996, probably did not envision

anyone's being forced to choose between a job and pain relief. But the

California law does not (unlike Rhode Island's) spell out protections

against employment discrimination. As a result of last month's ruling,

California state legislator Mark Leno promised to introduce a bill that

would protect employees from being fired for off-the-job marijuana use.


This only makes sense. American workers use quite an array of prescription

drugs in their daily lives and enjoy workplace protections for doing so, as

long as they perform their jobs adequately. Marijuana has proved effective

in easing the suffering that can go along with multiple sclerosis, AIDS,

cancer and numerous other maladies. The problem is that federal law

continues to classify it as illegal. Until the federal stance is brought

into harmony with state medical-use laws, sufferers will continue to face

impossible predicaments.


In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court held that state laws regarding marijuana

cannot protect users from prosecution. In California, federal agencies have

lately been shutting down medical-marijuana dispensaries and charging those

involved with felonies. The high court's position clearly informed the

California ruling. Still, the state court at least left the door open to

employment protections under an amended law.


Unfortunately, strengthening job protections will not overcome the main

problem: How are medical users, even employed ones, to legally acquire



Someone in Congress should muster the fortitude to sponsor national

legislation. It need not go so far as to endorse a nationwide pot party. But

it should defer to state efforts to permit compassionate use. Some who find

relief from marijuana are among the most desperately ill. Often, they are

terminal cases. In the face of changing views about the drug, the federal

response has been needlessly heavy-handed. In any event, the law should be



Jesse Stout, Executive Director

RI Patient Advocacy Coalition

145 Wayland Avenue

Providence, RI 02906

Phone: 401-861-1601 |

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