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Use of medical marijuana not protected by ADA

James v. City of Costa Mesa (9th Cir. 2012) 684 F.3d 825

Background: Severely disabled California residents who under medical prescription used medical marijuana filed an application for preliminary injunctive relief against cities of Costa Mesa and Lake Forest for restraining possible shutdown of the collectives they rely on to obtain medical marijuana.

Court History: Plaintiffs brought action in federal district court, alleging that the cities’ actions violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination in the provision of public services. District Court denied the application on the ground that the ADA does not protect against discrimination on the basis of marijuana use, even medical marijuana use supervised by a doctor in accordance with state law, unless that use is authorized by federal law. Plaintiffs appealed.

Pertinent Issues addressed: The Court of appeal affirming the District Court’s judgment denied the application of the Plaintiffs. The court reasoned that, “California has embraced marijuana as an effective treatment for individuals like the plaintiffs who face debilitating pain. Congress has made clear, however, that the ADA defines “illegal drug use” by reference to federal, rather than state, law, and federal law does not authorize the plaintiffs’ medical marijuana use. We therefore necessarily conclude that the plaintiffs’ medical marijuana use is not protected by the ADA.”

The Court further explained, “We do not hold, as the dissent states, that “medical marijuana users are not protected by the ADA in any circumstance.” We hold instead that the ADA does not protect medical marijuana users who claim to face discrimination on the basis of their marijuana use. See 42 U.S.C. § 12210(a) (the illegal drug use exclusion applies only “when the covered entity acts on the basis of such use”). As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has explained,

“A person who alleges disability based on one of the excluded conditions [such as current use of illegal drugs or compulsive gambling, see 42 U.S.C. § 12211(b)(2),] is not an individual with a disability under the ADA. Note, however, that a person who has one of these conditions is an individual with a disability if (s)he has another condition that rises to the level of a disability”… “Thus, a compulsive gambler who has a heart impairment that substantially limits his/her major life activities is an individual with a disability. Although compulsive gambling is not a disability, the individual’s heart impairment is a disability.” (James v. City of Costa Mesa (9th Cir. 2012) 684 F.3d 825)

Pointers:

  • Employers should note that even though ADA does not protect medical marijuana users who claim to face discrimination on the basis of their marijuana use, they should be wary of where an individual may have another condition that rises to the level of a disability and may therefore be entitled to protections under the ADA.