So far, the courts have responded with a resounding no. Most recently, the Oregon Supreme Court held that an employer can fire a worker for using medical marijuana, even if he is legally authorized by the state to use. In Emerald Steel Fabricators v. Bureau of Labor and Industries, John Doe argued that he was disabled within the meaning of Oregon law and that Emerald Steel failed to accommodate his disability. Doe suffered from a debilitating medical condition for which marijuana was prescribed to relieve symptoms. Emerald hired Doe as a temporary worker and wanted to hire him full-time. Knowing that he would have to take a drug test for a full-time position, Doe explained his condition and medical marijuana use to his boss, and was fired shortly thereafter.
While fourteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing the possession of marijuana for certain medical purposes, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and courts have been hesitant to force employers to tolerate illegal behavior. Even the most liberal states are coming down on the side of employers. But beware…California is considering a ballot initiative that would prohibit employers from firing a person who tests positive for marijuana if he has a medical marijuana card. In the meantime, employers need to be aware of the issue and keep an eye on legislation and litigation.