Can California Employees Be Fired for Using Medical Marijuana?

Photo of a man being firedIn 1996, Californians passed the Compassionate Use Act, which legalized medical marijuana. After the law was passed, Californians with valid prescriptions could walk into marijuana dispensaries and leave with an array of products.

However, the Compassionate Use Act only protects Californians from state criminal prosecution—it does not offer protections against employer policies. In addition, federal workers are barred from using marijuana no matter what state they reside in.

Court Cases on Medical Marijuana and the Workplace

In the court case Ross v. Raging Wire Telecommunications, a fired worker sued his employer for wrongful termination and breach of contract. The fired worker argued he possessed a prescription to use medical marijuana, and that he was protected from job termination under the Compassionate Use Act. The California Supreme Court ruled that because marijuana is illegal under federal law, and because the Compassionate Use Act does not eliminate the potential for drug abuse, the firing could be upheld.

In James v. City of Costa Mesa, a similar ruling declared that because marijuana is a controlled substance under federal law, users are not entitled to protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As we can see, federal laws have decided the fate of medical marijuana use in the workplace for Californians. California employers can fire workers for failing drug tests, but must meet certain criteria for ordering testing in the first place.

As long as the federal government recognizes cannabis as an illegal substance, California employees will still be at risk for losing their jobs should they decide to use medical marijuana.