State-registered medical cannabis patients may sue a private employer for discrimination if they are fired for their off-the-job marijuana use, according to a first in the nation ruling issued today by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
Opining for the court, Chief Justice Ralph Gants determined that it is “not facially unreasonable” for employers to make exceptions to their substance abuse policies in instances where employees are using cannabis at home to treat a debilitating condition. “The fact that the employee’s possession of medical marijuana is in violation of federal law does not make it per se unreasonable as an accommodation,” he wrote.
The defendant in the case was fired on her first day on the job for testing positive for carboxy-THC on a company drug test. The former employee possessed a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis to treat symptoms of Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Qualified patients may legally obtain cannabis in Massachusetts under a 2012 voter-initiated law.
The unanimous verdict reverses a lower court decision and is contrary to rulings in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. In each of those states, the supreme courts ruled that employees had no legal protections if they were fired without cause for their state-sanctioned use of medical cannabis.
“Patients should never have to choose between their heath and their job and for the first time, a court has acknowledged that they shouldn’t have to do so,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. “It is our hope that courts in other jurisdictions begin to apply this same rationale to patients as well as to all adults who are using cannabis responsibly off-the-job in compliance with the laws of their states.”
The case is Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing LLC.