Question:

My physician has recommended that I use medical marijuana to help me deal with the side effects of my cancer treatments. I am trying to work while going through my treatment and want to know if this means I can use marijuana for medicinal purposes at my place of employment. Also, because the use of marijuana is related to my cancer treatments, it seems to me that my health insurance should reimburse me for the cost of medical marijuana.

Answer:

On November 6, 1996, California enacted the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (“Act”). This Act allows seriously ill residents of the state, who have the oral or written approval or recommendation of a physician, to use marijuana for medical purposes without fear of criminal liability pursuant to California law. However, because the federal government still takes the position that it is illegal to cultivate, possess, or distribute marijuana, even for medical purposes, the issue of medicinal marijuana use remains controversial.

Following passage of the Compassionate Use Act, the California Legislature received reports from across the state that revealed problems and uncertainties in the Act. These problems impeded the ability of law enforcement officers to enforce the Act and prevented qualified patients from obtaining the protections afforded by the Act. In an attempt to address these problems, last year the Legislature passed and Governor Davis signed SB 420.

SB 420 requires the State Department of Health Services to establish and maintain a voluntary program to issue identification cards to qualified patients, and establishes procedures under which a qualified patient with an identification card may use marijuana for medical purposes. It also imposes various duties upon county health departments relating to the issuance of identification cards and creates various crimes related to the identification card program. SB 420 authorizes the State Attorney General to set forth and clarify details concerning possession and cultivation limits and requires the Attorney General to develop and adopt guidelines to ensure the security and nondiversion of marijuana grown for medical use.

In direct response to your question, as a result of SB 420, Health and Safety Code section 11362.785 was enacted. This section specifically provides that employers are not required to accommodate the use of medical marijuana on the property or premises of any place of employment or during the hours of employment. This section also provides that governmental, private, or other health insurance providers or healthcare service plans are not liable for any claim for reimbursement for medicinal use of marijuana.

In addition, Health and Safety Code section 11362.79 provides that individuals with an identification card that allows them to engage in the smoking of marijuana for medical purposes are not authorized to do so in any place where smoking is prohibited by law, on a school bus, while in a motor vehicle that is being operated, while operating a boat, or within 1000 feet of the grounds of a school recreation center, or youth center, unless the medical use occurs within a residence.
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