Hot Workplace Discrimination Debate

A survey published by Drug and Alcohol Review found that 5% of California adults over the age of 21 had used medical cannabis at least once for a “severe” condition. 5% of California employees is approximately one million people.

Now, what happens when these legal medical cannabis users go to work?

According to the same survey, “many employers nonetheless prohibit workers from using medical cannabis but allow them to use other, more dangerous and addictive drugs such as opiates when prescribed by their physicians.”

This double standard needs to be re-stated: Employers can prohibit workers from using medically prescribed cannabis—but at the same time allow them to use other medically prescribed drugs.

Is employer bias against cannabis use workplace discrimination?

All of us know friends and family members who have been fired unfairly or been discriminated against at work. It seems like employers can always find creative reasons to fire someone, regardless of whether it’s legal or not.

Currently, there’s a new area of employment law that’s being debated in California: As marijuana laws continue to change, how does this affect workplace discrimination against medical marijuana patients? While marijuana may be legal for adults 21 and over, you can still lose your job for marijuana use while you are not at work—regardless of whether it was medically prescribed or not.

Legally, California employers are allowed to deny employment opportunities or cease employing someone based on their cannabis use, regardless of whether cannabis was medically prescribed.

Are there efforts to change the law?

There are efforts to change the law but as of 2021—even though California has legalized the use of both recreational and medicinal marijuana—an employer still has a right to refuse to hire someone or make workplace accommodations to those who have tested positive for the drug. In fact, California’s highest court has written that the state’s legalization statute did not give marijuana the same status as legal prescription drugs. With regard to the drug’s illegal status under federal law, the court held that the state’s disability-discrimination statute did not require employers to accommodate illegal drug use.

But the times continue to change. That’s why our employment attorneys will continue to monitor and study this debate.


Because California is an “at-will” employment state (employers are free to terminate employees at any time) employees think that they have no rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. Learn more about your employee rights. Contact us today.

Lawyers for Employee and Consumer Rights (LFECR) is a leading California employment law firm. With more than forty remote attorneys, LFECR is prepared to work on behalf of their clients anywhere in California.

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