U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Montana Employer Can Fire Marijuana User

Marijuana users have been on a high, but what goes up this time comes down.

In Carlson v. Charter Communications, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals turned down a marijuana user who sued his employer for firing him under its drug policy. The plaintiff lost in state court, so he asked the federal court to consider it.

It came down to a question about whether a state law legalizing marijuana trumped the employer's policy to have a drug-free workplace. In a word, the court said "no."

Montana Marijuana Act

Actually, the court said, "affirmed." In any case, the judges made short work of it.

The decision was three pages long, and about half of it was blank or simply a caption. The question was submitted on Nov. 9, and answered 10 days later.

The Ninth Circuit said the Montana Marijuana Act, which legalized pot for medical purposes, did not prevent employers from prohibiting marijuana use at work. The Act also did not preclude a federal contractor from complying with the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act, the panel said.

However, the appeals court also acknowledged the validity of the state's marijuana law. It did not violate the state constitution, and survived constitutional scrutiny.

"Legitimate Interest"

Marijuana advocates have flourished as states continue to legalize the drug for medical and recreational use. It is still a controlled substance under federal law, but the federal government has not enforced the law generally.

Although Congress has restricted the Department of Justice from prosecuting people who comply with state marijuana laws, the appeals court said, Montana has a legitimate interest in regulating access to "an otherwise illegal substance."

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