Protecting patients in the workplace

Greetings, UC Berkeley students. Are any of you graduating soon? Do you use marijuana for medical reasons? Do you want to get a job when you graduate? Tough luck.

Many are unaware that the California Supreme Court has ruled that employers may fire anyone who fails a drug test, even legal medical marijuana patients. Sadly, many find this out only after they’ve lost their jobs. Only a legislative action will change the climate now.

SB129 (Leno) would grant needed employment rights to medical marijuana users and will be voted on as soon as Jan. 19 in Sacramento. Whether or not you use medical marijuana, you should support this bill along with the 65 percent of California voters who agree that medical marijuana users shouldn’t lose their right to work.

California NORML regularly receives calls from frantic workers in danger of job loss. Ironically, many tell us that it’s marijuana that enables them to be productive workers by managing their pain without opiates, or allowing them to sleep, or staving off migraine headaches. But unless they can stomach pharmaceutical medications for their ailments, they’re out of luck when it comes to the job market.

This situation persists despite the fact that urine testing programs have been shown in study after study not to improve workplace safety. Alternatives like impairment testing are starting to gain ground, as trucking companies and others are looking for better and more immediate ways to reduce their accident rate. One company even markets their Alertometer as an iPhone app.

By discriminating against marijuana users, our workforce is missing out on some of its most creative and productive participants, and the whole country suffers from this. Canadian courts have found drug testing unconstitutional, and it’s widely known that Silicon Valley doesn’t drug test, because it would then lose some of its top recruits.

Indeed, what’s become the nation’s only growth industry (aside from medical marijuana) was largely started by two known pot smokers, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. In addition, a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that the mental function and memory of nearly 9,000 British men at age 50 was the same or higher among those who admitted to using marijuana or other illicit drugs moderately at the age of 42.

Under SB129, employers would retain the right to take action against employees who were impaired on the job. Those in safety-sensitive positions and certain health-care workers could still be drug tested. And contrary to what opponents like the California Chamber of Commerce like to state, it won’t interfere with federal drug-testing mandates.

“I’m a fierce champion of the reasonable,” joked Sen. Mark Leno when he announced the bill at a CalNORML conference last year. He added, “I don’t think the voters of California, when they passed Prop. 215, intended it to only benefit unemployed people.” If you agree, please take action on this bill.

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Ellen Komp is the deputy director of California NORML.