Washington: Supreme Court Says State’s Medical Marijuana Law Provides No Protection For Employees’ Off-The-Job Use Of Cannabis

Olympia, WA: 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 Supreme Court ruled last week in an 8 to 1 decision.

The majority determined: “Washington courts have recognized that [the] purpose [of the Washington State Medical Use of Marijuana Act] 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.”

The Court further determined: “Finally, Washington patients have no legal right to use marijuana under federal law. Though [the petitioner] claims the divergence between Washington’s [medical marijuana law] and federal drug law is of no consequence to a state tort claim, the two cannot be completely separated.”

Writing for the dissent, Justice Tom Chambers determined: “The law is intended to treat marijuana like any other medication. … Even the limitations in the act support finding a policy in favor of allowing medical marijuana in situations like this one.”

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.

In 2008, the California Supreme Court also similarly 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.”

Full text of the decision, Roe v. Teletech Customer Care Management LLC, is available here: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/2011/06/09/2015278482.pdf.