Marijuana Patients Hobson’s Choice: Work or Medicate?

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 13, 2011

    An employer may terminate an employee for his or her off-the-job marijuana use, even if the employee is authorized under state law to use cannabis medicinally, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled last week.

    Off-the-job medical marijuana use does not bar firing: Wash. high court
    via BusinessInsurance.com

    The ruling stemmed from the case of a woman who suffered from migraines that caused chronic pain, nausea, blurred vision and sensitivity to light, according to court documents. She said conventional medications did not provide relief.

    In June 2006, a doctor provided her a document authorizing marijuana possession for medical purposes, and about four months later TeleTech offered her a customer service job contingent on the results of a drug screening test.

    The employer learned of her drug test results about the same time the plaintiff began training for the job and terminated her. The company’s drug-use policy does not make an exception for medical marijuana use, court records show.

    … On appeal to the Washington Supreme Court, the woman argued that because the medical marijuana law explicitly does not require employers to accommodate pot use “in any place of employment,” it implicitly requires accommodation for use outside the workplace.

    But eight justices agreed with lower courts and found that MUMA broadly protects a personal decision to use medical marijuana, but does not address impediments to doing so, such as an employer’s drug policy.

    The case is Roe v. Teletech Customer Care Management LLC. The majority’s argument essentially comes down to this: “Washington courts have recognized that MUMA’s purpose is to protect the rights of qualifying patients to use medical marijuana in accordance with the advice and supervision of their physicians. … Washington court decisions do not recognize a broad public policy that would remove any impediment to medical marijuana use or impose an employer accommodation obligation.” You can read the Court’s decision here.

    Though disappointing, the Court’s 8-1 decision upholding an employer’s right to arbitrarily discriminate against medi-pot users is frustratingly predictable. In 2010, the Oregon Supreme Court made a similar ruling in Emerald Steel Fabricators Inc. v. Bureau of Labor and Industries, finding that an employee who uses marijuana in accordance with state law is nonetheless “engaged in the illegal use of drugs” and may be fired for his or her off-the-job conduct. And In 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled in Ross v. Ragingwire Telecom that: “California’s voters merely exempted medical users and their primary caregivers from criminal liability under two specifically designated state statutes. Nothing in the text or history of the Compassionate Use Act suggests the voters intended the measure to address the respective rights and obligations of employers and employees.”

    In short, the west coast Courts have issued patients a classic Hobson’s Choice: ‘Use your medicine in compliance with state law but don’t seek gainful employment,’ or ‘Work, but refrain from using the medicine that most effectively alleviates your pain and suffering.’ The ‘choice,’ of course, is really no choice at all. It’s discrimination — plain and simple.

    Further, it remains painfully obvious — to virtually everyone but the Courts — that employers lack any legitimate justification to sanction anyone for their off-the-job use of cannabis, much less legally authorized patients. As NORML Outreach Coordinator Russ Belville recently blogged — in a story picked up by the Colorado Independent and other media outlets — rising rates in the number of legal marijuana users is not associated with increased incidences of workplace accidents. In fact, just the opposite result is shown to be true.

    Finally, scientific studies have consistently reported workplace urine testing programs are a poor method for identifying employees who are under the influence, and do not significantly reduce job accident rates. Writing recently in the journal Addiction, Investigators at the University of Victoria in British Columbia reviewed 20 years of published literature pertaining to the efficacy of workplace drug testing, with a special emphasis on marijuana – the most commonly detected drug. They found: “[I]t is not clear that heavy cannabis users represent a meaningful job safety risk unless using before work or on the job; urine tests have poor validity and low sensitivity to detect employees who represent a safety risk; drug testing is related to reductions in the prevalence of cannabis positive tests among employees, but this might not translate into fewer cannabis users; and urinalysis has not been shown to have a meaningful impact on job injury/accident rates. … Urinalysis testing is not recommended as a diagnostic tool to identify employees who represent a job safety risk from cannabis use.”

    So why are the courts still affirming one set of rules for pharmaceutical users and another set of rules for herbal cannabis patients?

    48 responses to “Marijuana Patients Hobson’s Choice: Work or Medicate?”

    1. Anonymous says:

      Yes you can
      No you cannot

    2. Big D says:

      I know and live by Teletec, and have quite a few friends who work there. Roe probably lucked out getting fired from there because they are very poor employers, treating their works very bad, and giving crap benefits and wages.
      This whole thing is a very poor choice by not only our Supreme Courts, but Teletec as well- it gives both of them VERY BAD press, and will loose any face they barely posess as it is. Teletec should be fired for being incredible idiots, and the worst part is, is that half of teletec’s work force is nothing but made up of gakked-out, ape-smelling tweekers that pass their UA’s because it only stays in their system for up to 3 days. Nobody like tweekers, let alone have to work with them, but it’s almost as if they’re singling-out MMJ patients and weekend-stoners who do nothing but try to support their families, and pay their taxes! In short, if you work at Teletec, and smoke weed, quit… Quit the job. not the green… The jobs crappy as it is, and there’s WAY better work out there that WON’T discriminate. This is like saying “if you hurt yourself, and have to take pain med’s for it, they can fire you for that… Is that the case? can you be fired for taking prescription medications that you legally can have? Cause if that’s the case, most all of Teletec would be fired and have to rehire a whole new work force. Teletec’s employee’s are probably about 70% teenage drop-outs, just out of high school, and tweekers. Nice work Teletec, you are definatel SATAN!!!

    3. Chris says:

      This ruling violates the Equal Protection Clause of U.S. Constitution. Also, the ADA and state medical privacy laws. This is not justice.

    4. Jeremy420 says:

      Senate bill 129 may be an answer. I think until the federal government accepts medical marijuana, as maybe homeopathic, the patients will keep being thrown in the dirt.
      I worked in law enforcement and then joined the military. I developed a RX pill and drinking problem that destroyed my life. I ended up at an inpatient rehab center in San Diego,CA. I learned quite a bit about medical marijuana and I have not used xanax or alcohol in 7 months. My quality of life has improved and my urge to drink left. Im convinced it has medical value and best of all NO KNOWN LEATHAL DOSE.

    5. Chrisv says:

      the choice has always been clear:

      Do What We Say, No Matter What


      We Will Take Your Rights Away.

      Pretty hard to combat this mentality, when you can always pay 1/2 the poor to kill the other 1/2.

    6. cl nottingham says:

      It is unfair that the company does not have to pay for proper testing that would determine how long before work the person consumed marijuana. Not even sure if there is a test for that. What about hemp oil consumers? I was falsely accused of marijuana smoking(by the USAF)and they dropped the case to prevent setting a precident for their inaccurate testing procedures that were successfully booting out troops for marijuana smoking. The alcohol users of this country are not tested. That could help weed out alcohol consumers and companies could fire them as their medical related illnesses cost big $ to companies, not to mention the poor productivity of people with hangovers.

    7. Budman says:

      All is fine if your a drinker – get drunk, sloppy, have no sense, this OK – But if you smoke a joint you are an abuser – Just plain BS……

      Lets take the booze away and see what all the drinkers will do…..

    8. stonefree says:

      Just another way for the atonerys and the providers to make more money. Everyone knows the USA goverment. I take that back. Less than< people do not know the CIA, DEA,Custom agents, The Bushes all got rich saling cocaine. Facts. The thrid Riech never died just changed countries!

    9. Jeremy420 says:

      Testing procedures for marijuana are pretty solid. But thc is stored in your fat cells and can stay for awhile. If an employer will bar some1 from employment for having used marijuana or even medical marijuana it appears thats there right… But things can change…

    10. TheOracle says:

      This company, unfortunately, is typical of many companies. Do they have federal contracts and have to fire employees? Does there insurance go up if they knowingly employ people who use cannabis even for medicinal reasons? Probably. That’s the first thing there that has to change then is that the company’s insurance does NOT go up. Then get companies to change their employment policies.

      The momentum toward legalization could get a big push if more states on the East Coast would jump on the band wagon faster. If you can get the Big Apple to get in line, prohibition is pretty much over. Get Seth Meyers to do a series of Really episodes in his fake news to get the ball rolling. Really segments between people portraying representatives from cannabis reform groups and then on later episodes have them enter the scene in the middle for cameo appearances along side the actor portraying them. Seth Meyers got his start in comedy in Amsterdam at Boom Chicago, and here’s the link to Radio Netherlands’ English language report on him.


      NYC has a stock exchange, and the whole point of reform going on in the Middle East is to give the people there more western democratic style freedom, as well as instant jobs from the legalization of cannabis, while at the same time giving the U.S. control over the worldwide stock exchange trade in cannabis. It will be traded in U.S. dollars, still, but legally now. It will give the U.S. NGOs another reason to be abroad, and provide intelligence gathering capabilities.

      I expect you to be negotiating with Seth and SNL during the summer hiatus.