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The California Chamber's reefer madness

The group says Proposition 19 would prevent employers from punishing workers who show up high. That's a lie.

October 29, 2010|By Dan Rush

Critics of Proposition 19,- which would legalize the private possession of limited quantities of marijuana by adults and allow local governments to regulate its commercial production and retail distribution, will do and say just about anything. Case in point: Radio ads sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce allege that passage of the measure will threaten workplace safety, a campaign The Times reported on in an Oct. 27 article.

The claim is a bald-faced lie.

Proposition 19 seeks to decriminalize private, adult cannabis consumption while preserving existing legal prohibitions on activities that threaten public safety. As a result, the new law would explicitly forbid the use of marijuana in public and in the workplace and maintain legal restrictions that penalize those who are under the influence while on the job or on California's roadways. According to an analysis published by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, "Employers would retain existing rights to address consumption of marijuana that impairs an employee's job performance."

In other words, employers would still have the power to punish those who get high on the job. Consuming marijuana at home and then showing up to work impaired by its effects would still be banned under Proposition 19, just as employers can punish their employees for arriving to work drunk. Further, because Proposition 19 would maintain prohibitions on using marijuana in public, employees would also be forbidden from consuming pot during their work breaks. Employers have and will maintain the right to establish, develop and enforce any policy they choose that does not violate any existing statute after Proposition 19 passes, just as before.

So why would the Chamber of Commerce claim otherwise? Opponents of Proposition 19 appear to be fixated on one particular clause in the proposition — language that happens to be clearly written and very specific — which requires employers to acknowledge an employee's impaired job performance before they can discipline or fire them. Of course, this is the same standard that exists for alcohol. Off-the-job alcohol consumption that has no adverse effect on workplace performance is acceptable, while alcohol use that impairs workplace performance, including the use of alcohol in legally acceptable situations and environments, is grounds for discipline or termination.

Further, Proposition 19 would in no way undermine federal drug-free workplace rules or California's ability to receive federal grants. Just as the state's 14-year experience with legalized medical marijuana has never once jeopardized or cost California federal funding, Proposition 19 wouldn't either. In fact, in 2008, the California Supreme Court determined in Ross vs. RagingWire Telecom that legal protections allowing for the use of marijuana in private do not extend to the workplace. End of story.

Finally, the Legislative Analyst's Office was equally clear that passage of Proposition 19 will in no way alter or undermine the ability of cops to target and prosecute DUI drivers or marijuana use on school grounds. The analyst found: "The measure would not change existing laws that prohibit driving under the influence of drugs or that prohibit possessing marijuana on the grounds of elementary, middle and high schools." Driving under the influence of marijuana is already illegal in California, and these offenses are vigorously prosecuted. Proposition 19 would not change these facts.

Rhetoric aside, Proposition 19 puts police priorities where they belong — away from targeting adults who use marijuana responsibly and toward fighting violent crime and gang activity. It will potentially generate billions in state and local tax revenue to help our schools, teachers, nurses, firefighters and cops. Legalizing the marijuana industry would create tens of thousands of new jobs while eliminating the involvement of criminal enterprises, including Mexican drug traffickers, from the California marijuana market.

That is why Proposition 19 is endorsed by a broad range of leading criminal justice, civil rights and religious organizations, including the National Black Police Assn., the California Council of Churches IMPACT, the California NAACP, the Service Employees International Union of California, the California League of United Latin American Citizens, the Latino Voters League, the Progressive Jewish Alliance and the Western States Council of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

I encourage you to visit yeson19.com and support Proposition 19.

Dan Rush is special operations director for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5.

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