Medical marijuana users can be fired: Calif. court

SAN FRANCISCO Thu Jan 24, 2008 6:22pm EST

Medical marijuana is displayed in Los Angeles, August 6, 2007. Companies can fire employees who use marijuana for medical reasons even if California law allows such use because federal law prohibits it, the state's Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Medical marijuana is displayed in Los Angeles, August 6, 2007. Companies can fire employees who use marijuana for medical reasons even if California law allows such use because federal law prohibits it, the state's Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Companies can fire employees who use marijuana for medical reasons even if California law allows such use because federal law prohibits it, the state's Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

"Under California law, an employer may require preemployment drug tests and take illegal drug use into consideration in making employment decisions," Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote.

The court's 5-2 decision is another blow to advocates of so-called medical marijuana.

In March last year, a federal court based in San Francisco said a California woman with an inoperable brain tumor had no fundamental right to marijuana for medical purposes.

Such rulings have confirmed that federal law governs when there are clashes with state law. California voters backed an initiative in 1996 allowing the smoking of marijuana for medical purposes -- a use barred by federal law.

"No state law could completely legalize marijuana for medical purposes because the drug remains illegal under federal law," Werdegar wrote.

In the latest case, Gary Ross said he began using marijuana in 1999 on a doctor's recommendation because of back pain.

Ross said that after he was offered a job at a company in 2001, he took and failed a drug test and was fired. He sued the company, privately held RagingWire Telecommunications, because he said it failed to make reasonable accommodation for his disability.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which backed the employer, said the ruling would help keep drug-impaired employees from workplaces.

Proponents of medical marijuana said they were looking for support from lawmakers in the nation's most populous state.

"We remain hopeful that the legislature will come to the aid of patients by preventing the sort of discrimination that is likely to occur from such a decision," said Joe Elford, chief counsel of Americans for Safe Access.

(Editing by Jim Christie and Xavier Briand)

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