Proposed legislation in California would protect medical marijuana patients from employment discrimination if passed

While California recently legalized possession of marijuana for personal use, what some may not realize is that this change in the law does not directly authorize or permit such possession or use at work.  Although California laws allow recreational use, those laws do not directly regulate employers.  Further, at this time, employers whose employees are not represented by a union are, with some limits, free to engage in employee drug-testing.

In California, despite the passage of the Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215) in 1996, and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Proposition 64) in 2016, cannabis patients continue to be denied employment or terminated for testing positive for cannabis.  To date, the 2008 California Supreme Court case of Ross v. RagingWire Telecommunications, Inc., allows employers to terminate an employee solely based on their status as a medical cannabis patient.

On February 7, 2018, Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced AB 2069.  If passed, AB 2069 would prohibit employers in California from discriminating against workers on the basis of their status as a medical cannabis patient or on the basis of a patient’s positive drug test for cannabis.

The bill seeks to amend the anti-discrimination provisions of Government Code section 12940 to make it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to refuse to hire or to discharge a person from employment because of their status as a qualified patient or person with a medical cannabis identification card or because he or she tests positive for cannabis on a drug test.

The bill would exempt employers whose workers are in safety sensitive positions that are subject to federal drug testing mandates.  The bill also allows an employer to take corrective action or terminate an employee who is impaired at work because of the use of cannabis.

Should AB 2069 become law in California, employers would be prohibited from terminating cannabis patients or employees who test positive for cannabis as long as the employee is a qualified patient with a lawful identification card as defined by the Health and Safety Code and he or she is not impaired at work.

Employees and their Unions interested in learning more about this proposed legislation should contact Assemblyman Rob Bonta or Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward).

For further information regarding drug testing and the workplace, contact your legal counsel.

By Alan Crowley | March 12, 2018

Legal Developments