Image: Medical marijuana user Gary Ross
Rich Pedroncelli  /  AP file
Gary Ross, photographed at Discovery Park in Sacramento, Califonia, on October 30, 2007.
updated 1/24/2008 2:09:20 PM ET 2008-01-24T19:09:20

Employers can fire workers found to have used medical marijuana even if it was legally prescribed, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The high court upheld a small Sacramento telecommunications company's firing of a man who flunked a company-ordered drug test. Gary Ross held a medical marijuana card authorizing him to use the drug to treat a back injury sustained while serving in the Air Force.

The company, Ragingwire Inc., argued that it rightfully fired Ross because all marijuana use is illegal under federal law, which does not recognize the medical marijuana laws in California and 11 other states.

The U.S. Supreme Court declared in 2005 that state medicinal marijuana laws don't protect users from prosecution. The Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies have been actively shutting down major medical marijuana dispensaries throughout California over the last two years and charging their operators with felony distribution charges.

Ragingwire said it fired Ross because it feared it could be the target of a federal raid, among other reasons.

Federal contracts at stake
The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the Western Electrical Contractors Association Inc. had joined Ragingwire's case, arguing that companies could lose federal contracts and grants if they allowed employees to smoke pot.

The conservative nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation said in a friend-of-the-court filing that employers could also be liable for damage done by workers who are high.

Ross had argued that medical marijuana users should receive the same workplace protection from discipline that employees with valid painkiller prescriptions do. California voters legalized medicinal marijuana in 1996.

The nonprofit marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, which represents Ross, estimates that 300,000 Americans use medical marijuana. The Oakland-based group said it has received hundreds of employee discrimination complaints in California since it began tracking the issue in 2005.

The American Medical Association advocates keeping marijuana classified as a tightly controlled and dangerous drug that should not be legalized until more research is done.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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