The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has taken on medical marijuana and the ADA, concluding that individuals who use marijuana, even if doing so legally under state law, aren’t protected from discrimination under the ADA.
As a practical matter, that means disciplining employees for using medical marijuana won’t violate the ADA.
Recent case: Marla and a number of other disabled California residents had prescriptions to use marijuana for medical purposes. They typically filled those prescriptions at medical marijuana cooperatives set up to dispense the drug.
But a few years ago, local governments began passing ordinances banning marijuana dispensaries within their city limits.
Marla and her co-plaintiffs sued several California municipalities, alleging that shutting down dispensaries made it difficult to obtain legally prescribed medicines. They said that amounted to discrimination, based on the right of disabled individuals to access public facilities.
They also asked the court to order local governments to help disabled people access their medications as an ADA reasonable accommodation.
The local government agencies argued that the ADA doesn’t protect illegal drug use, even if the user is disabled. If a disabled individual were addicted to heroin, it would still be illegal for her to use heroin. The same holds true for medicinal marijuana, they argued.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. It noted that the ADA—a federal law—specifically states that individuals cannot allege they are disabled on the basis of being currently addicted to illegal drugs. It follows that otherwise disabled individuals don’t have the right to access drugs deemed illegal under federal law.
While the court expressed sympathy for the plaintiffs, who were clearly convinced that medical marijuana made their disabilities more tolerable, that didn’t change the law.
Because marijuana use is still considered illegal under federal law, and because the law they were alleging gave them the right to access medical marijuana is a federal law that clearly excludes illegal drug usage as grounds for protection, they had no case. (James, et al., v. City of Costa Mesa, et al., No. 10-55769, 9th Cir., 2012)
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