Ask a Weed Lawyer: Am I Protected Against Legal Weed Discrimination?

Sure. And also against comets and bad television.

John Bussman is a criminal defense attorney in Orange County, California. He is an expert on marijuana law, a member of the NORML Legal Committee, and a longtime supporter of drug policy reform.

Q: Medical marijuana is legal in my state. As a valid cardholder, what kind of protections do I have against discrimination in housing and employment?

The short answer is, “none."

At last count, 23 states allow some form of medical marijuana use by qualified patients. Four more states, plus Washington D.C., allow adults to use cannabis recreationally.

Even though many jurisdictions have removed criminal penalties for adults who use and possess weed, smokers continue to face legal discrimination.

You might not go to jail for a joint in most parts of the country, but you can still legally lose your job, your home, your kids, and everything else that you care about.

The Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990. It prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities and ensured equal opportunity in employment, government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. If you have some medical disability that affects your ability to perform day-to-day tasks, the ADA requires almost everybody to make reasonable accommodations for your needs. Your landlord cannot evict you just because you have HIV. Your boss cannot fire you just because you have cancer. Airlines must make reasonable accommodations for the blind, and so on.

The ADA is a federal law, though, and the feds still consider marijuana to be a class-1 controlled substance. Since the federal government does not recognize medical marijuana as “medicine,” medical marijuana cardholders do not fall under the provisions of the ADA. Marijuana users are not considered to be a “protected class,” like racial minorities or other vulnerable groups. As such, cannabis patients have no legal grounds to claim discrimination when they experience unfriendly treatment due to their status as medical marijuana users.

Basically, everyone is still free to discriminate against you for your legal marijuana use. Your landlord can evict you, your boss can fire you, airlines can refuse to serve you, and there’s nothing you can legally do about it.