Bill supports employment rights

by Ellen Komp
01/10/2012
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Californians have a chance to take an important stride for human rights in the coming weeks in Sacramento. Senate Bill 129 (Leno), which will be voted on sometime before Jan. 20, would grant needed employment rights to our state's medical marijuana users.

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, people often find this out only after they've lost their jobs. California NORML regularly receives calls on this issue. In recent weeks we have heard from a manager at an electronics store, a bottler at a beer factory, and others who have been unfairly deemed unfit for work because they use marijuana medicinally.

Ironically, we are often told that it's marijuana that enables people 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.

Better alternatives for 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.

Under S.B. 129, employers would retain the right to take action against employees who were working while impaired. Those in safety-sensitive positions and certain health-care workers could still be drug tested.

"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."

Why should nonsmokers care about this bill? Apart from the obvious human rights issue, it's bad policy to marginalize a segment of the population as unemployable. Not only does it encourage the kind of illegal behavior the laws would like to prevent, but it robs the workforce of some of its most creative and productive participants.

In fact, 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.

Recent polling shows that California voters strongly favor employment rights for medical marijuana smokers, by a 66-28 percent margin. Inland Valley residents are urged to contact Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod at her Montclair office, 909-621-2783, to ask for her support for SB129.

Readers can get informed and take action on S.B. 129 by visiting www.CaNORML.org.

Ellen Komp is deputy director of California NORML, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to reforming California's marijuana laws. Write her.