Bonta Authors Bill to Protect Medical Cannabis Patients from Employment Discrimination

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Prohibits Termination or Denying Employment Based on Cannabis Patient Status

(Sacramento, CA) – Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) has introduced AB 2355, which prohibits employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their status as a medical cannabis patient or on the basis of a patient’s positive drug test for presence of cannabis. AB 2355 will not protect employees who are impaired by or using cannabis in the workplace. AB 2355 allows for employers to require the employee to provide a valid medical cannabis identification card along with the cannabis dosage or treatment regimen recommended by their attending physician. The patient’s attending physician must be licensed to practice in California and recommends the use of medical cannabis in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Medical Board of California.

AB 2355 will provide worker protections to patients using medical cannabis outside of the workplace and not during work hours. The bill exempts employers whose workers are in safety-sensitive positions that are subject to state and federal laws preventing reasonable accommodations for medical cannabis. For example, truck drivers, school bus drivers and aviation pilots would be exempt because of legitimate safety concerns. The bill would also not apply if it causes employer to lose a monetary or licensing-related benefit, or incur damages under federal law or regulations. For example, federal grantees like hospitals would be exempt.

“To be discriminated against by your employer because of the type of medicine you use is both inhumane and wrong. Medical cannabis, as recommended by a doctor, should be given a similar “reasonable accommodation” as all prescription drugs,” Bonta said. “This is a question of equity and protecting patients who face illnesses likes cancer, epilepsy, and chronic pain against needless workplace discrimination. This issue is even more pressing as we face the ongoing and deadly opioid epidemic because medical cannabis can be a less addictive option. Currently, 16 states have extended similar worker protections and it’s time for California to do the same.”

Despite the passage of the Compassionate Use Act and Proposition 64 by California voters, patients continue to be denied employment or are terminated for testing positive for cannabis. In 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled in Ross v. Ragingwire Telecommunications that an employee could be terminated solely based on their status as a medical cannabis patient. This ruling called for the Legislature to clarify its intent for patient employee rights. This important clarification for workers and employers is the goal of AB 2355.

The following 16 states have extended such worker protections: Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.

“It’s time to stop treating cannabis patients like second-class citizens,” said Dale Gieringer, Executive Director of California NORML. “It’s wrong that employers let their workers use addictive prescription opiates, but not medical cannabis, given that cannabis is so much safer and often more effective for chronic pain.”

47 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation legalizing medical and/or adult cannabis use. Yet, only 16 states have employment protection laws in place.

“Patients who are able to work should have that right to not be discriminated for using medical cannabis, as prescribed by a physician. These are patients who need their medicine and there is no reason why cannabis, when used for medical purposes outside the workplace and work time, should not be treated in a similar way to any other prescribed medication,” concluded Bonta.

Assemblymember Rob Bonta represents the 18th Assembly District, which includes Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro and is the Assistant Majority Leader.