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California legalized pot for medical use in 1996 and for recreational use by adults in 2016, but you may still face job discrimination for medical marijuana use, and pot can still get you into legal trouble. If that happens, you’ll need to contact a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer.

Sixteen states forbid discrimination against workers on the basis of medical marijuana use, but California has no law to protect workers with medical marijuana prescriptions. Employees who test positive for medical marijuana may still be terminated because of their medical needs.

However, because a growing number of job applicants are being rejected for failing marijuana tests – in both the public and private sectors – a debate has emerged regarding whether the employment rules should be amended in California when it comes to medical marijuana patients.

What Does the Law Say About Marijuana and the Workplace?

Proposition 64, which legalized pot in California in 2016, lets both private-sector and public-sector employers continue to maintain drug-free workplaces and allows for the termination of workers who do not adhere to drug-free policies.

But more than a thousand applicants for state correctional officer jobs were rejected after testing positive for marijuana in 2018. And with more job seekers in the private sector also failing pot tests, one lawmaker has introduced legislation that would change the state’s employment laws.

Should Employers Accommodate Medical Marijuana Patients?

Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) introduced legislation in February that would compel both public and private employers to accommodate employees and job seekers who use cannabis for medical reasons.

“To be discriminated against by your employer because of the type of medicine you use is both inhumane and wrong,” Bonta told the Los Angeles Times. “Medical cannabis, as recommended by a doctor, should be given a similar reasonable accommodation as all prescription drugs.”

Tamar Todd, speaking for the California Cannabis Advisory Committee, told the Times, “People can still be drug tested and disciplined based on a positive result even if they are using in compliance with state law, not at work, and not impaired at work.”

What is Required of Employers by Federal Law?

Because marijuana is still illegal under federal statutes, the proposal now before the California State Legislature would not apply to workers who are required by federal law to be drug-free, such as truck drivers, school bus drivers, law enforcement officers, and airline pilots.

Additionally, Assemblyman Bonta’s proposal (Assembly Bill 2355), should it become law, will not apply to the employees of California employers who are federal contractors. Federal contractors are required by law to operate drug-free workplaces.

What Does Assembly Bill 2355 Provide?

What does the proposed legislation provide? AB 2355 would not protect employees who are impaired by or using marijuana in the workplace. It would protect only those employees who are using medical marijuana away from the job site and not while they are “on the clock.”

AB 2355 would also allow an employer to compel an employee who tests positive for marijuana to produce a valid medical marijuana ID card. Additionally, the bill requires the employee’s physician to be licensed to practice medicine in California.

Are There Good Reasons to Maintain the Current Law?

However, opponents of easing the current law can point to some disturbing statistics. According to research recently conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, employees who tested positive for marijuana had, when compared against employees who tested negative:

1. 55 percent more industrial accidents
2. 85 percent more job-related injuries
3. 75 percent more absenteeism

The California Chamber of Commerce, in a statement released in February, claimed that “Allowing drug use in the workplace – including requiring an employer to accommodate an employee’s marijuana use – could jeopardize the safety of other workers as well as the public.”

The California Supreme Court determined in 2008 (in Ross v. Ragingwire Telecommunications) that an employee may be fired solely for being a medical marijuana user. The justices at that time asked the Legislature to spell out clearly the employment rights of medical marijuana patients.

Assemblyman Bonta’s proposal is an attempt to do just that. He told the Times that “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.”

What Are California’s Pot Laws in 2020?

What, exactly, are the current marijuana laws in California? The first consideration is that despite California’s 2016 legalization of recreational marijuana for adults, the cultivation, possession, and consumption of marijuana are still federal crimes.

If you are charged with any federal crime related to marijuana use, possession, sale, cultivation, or trafficking, contact a southern California defense attorney at once. Federal penalties are quite harsh for any type of drug violation.

Under California state law as spelled out by Proposition 64, adults in California who are age 21 or older may purchase, possess, and consume up to 28.5 grams of marijuana in their private residences or in establishments that have been licensed for marijuana consumption.

What If You Sell or Possess Pot Illegally?

However, there are still a number of legal restrictions on using, possessing, and selling marijuana in California, and if you are charged with any marijuana-related violation, you’ll need to speak with a California criminal defense attorney.

Those who are age 18 or older who are convicted for the possession of more than 28.5 grams of cannabis or more than 8 grams of concentrated cannabis may be penalized with up to six months in jail and/or fined up to $500.

The sale of marijuana by anyone who does not have a license to sell it is a misdemeanor that may be penalized upon conviction with up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $500.

Smoking or “vaping” marijuana in any non-smoking area or within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare, or youth center while children are present, except privately inside a residence, may be penalized with a $250 fine.

Generally speaking, you may not smoke marijuana in public or while driving, and you may not have an open container of marijuana while driving or while riding as a passenger in a vehicle.

When Should You Contact a Defense Lawyer?

The current situation – with marijuana legal at the state level but illegal at the federal level – has understandably created confusion, and the many state regulations have only added to that confusion.

In southern California, if you find yourself in any pot-related legal trouble, and especially if you face a criminal charge, you must be advised and represented by a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer who knows the law and who has substantial experience handling marijuana cases.

By: Douglas Miranda

Los Angeles criminal attorney Douglas Miranda graduated with honors from California State University, Los Angeles, and earned his J.D. from Western State College of Law in Fullerton. Since his admission to practice law in California, he has received special training and certification in forensic science, jury selection, and sex crime defense. Mr. Miranda also helps clients terminate their probations early and expunge their criminal records.

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