When his new boss at Ragingwire Inc. ordered Gary Ross to take a drug test, the recently hired computer tech had no doubt the results would come back positive for marijuana.
But along with his urine sample, Ross submitted a doctor’s recommendation that he smoked pot to alleviate back pain — a document he figured would save him from being fired. It didn’t, however, and Ross was let go eight days into his tenure because the company said federal law makes marijuana illegal no matter the use.
Today, the California Supreme Court is due to hear Ross’ case, the latest example of the intensifying clash between federal and local authorities over marijuana use.
Ross, 45, contends thatRagingwire, a small telecommunications company in Sacramento, discriminated against him because of a back injury and violated the state’s fair-employment law by punishing him for legally smoking marijuana at home.
He says he and others using medical marijuana should receive the same workplace protection from discipline that employees with valid painkiller prescriptions do. California voters legalized medicinal marijuana in 1996.
Eleven other states, including Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state, have adopted similar laws and many are now grappling with the same sticky, workplace issues over drug use by employees smoking medicinal marijuana approved by doctors.
The nonprofit marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, which is representing Ross, estimates that 300,000 Americans use medical marijuana. The Oakland-based group said it has received hundreds of employee discrimination complaints in California since it first began tracking the issue in 2005.
Ross, who lives in Sacramento, said he permanently injured his back in 1983 while serving as a U.S. Air Force mechanic. He said it wasn’t until 1999 that he found true pain relief with marijuana.
Two lower courts have sided with Ragingwire’s decision to fire Ross because federal law holds that marijuana is illegal in all guises.
Five current and former Democratic state legislators argue that the lower courts misinterpreted a law they helped pass that banned smoking of medicinal marijuana at the workplace. The lawmakers said nothing in their law prevents employees with medical marijuana cards to smoke outside the workplace.
Ragingwire has been joined in the Supreme Court by powerful corporate interests such as the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the Western Electrical Contractors Association Inc., who said companies couldlose federal contracts and grants if they allowed employees to smoke pot.