Although this case is not a workers' comp case, it can have implications for workers' comp because some injured workers in states that have legalized marijuana may be using it for pain relief.
In James, et al. v. City of Costa Mesa, et al., No. 10-55769 (9th Cir. 11/01/12), severely disabled residents of two cities in California obtained recommendations from their doctors to use marijuana to treat their pain. The cities in which the residents obtained marijuana took steps to close marijuana dispensing facilities operating within their boundaries. The residents sued the cities under the ADA Title II, alleging that the cities interfered with their access to medical marijuana and prevented them from accessing public services.
The 9th Circuit affirmed the denial of preliminary injunctive relief, explaining that the ADA defines "illegal drug use" by referring to federal, not state, law, and federal law does not authorize the residents' medical marijuana use. The court concluded that the residents' medical marijuana use was not protected by the ADA.
Legislative history of the ADA. The court agreed with the cities that the residents' state-authorized medical marijuana use is not covered by the supervised use exception to the ADA because it is not authorized by federal law. The legislative history of the ADA did not demonstrate that the exception was meant to extend beyond the uses authorized by the Controlled Substances Act, 21 USC Section 812, or other provisions of federal law.
It was "unlikely that Congress would have wished to legitimize state-authorized, federally proscribed medical marijuana use" in an ambiguous ADA provision, the court said. To conclude that the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes was not an illegal use of drugs under the ADA would undermine the Controlled Substances Act's statement that marijuana is an unlawful controlled substance with no accepted medical use. Congress could not have intended to create a loophole for the use of controlled substances under the supervision of a doctor, the court explained.
A dissenting judge opined that the legislative history of the ADA supported the residents' interpretation of the ADA, explaining that their use of medical marijuana was supervised by a doctor.
This case demonstrates that employers can enforce drug-free workplace policies against workers using medical marijuana without the fear of an ADA suit, at least in states with legal medical marijuana.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
December 17, 2012
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