On January 7, 2016, New York launched the Medical Marijuana Program established under the State’s Compassionate Care Act (“Program”). The Program
is intended to deliver approved forms of marijuana to seriously ill individuals “in desperate need of treatment.” Medicinal use of marijuana in New York requires a registered physician’s certification and State-issued registry identification card.
The Program establishes that State-certified medicinal pot users “shall be deemed” disabled within the meaning of the State’s Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”). Under the NYSHRL, employers with four or more employees are prohibited from discriminating against individuals in compensation or in the terms and conditions of employment based on their status as individuals with disabilities. Employers are also obligated to accommodate disabled individuals.
The Program protects certified users from “disciplinary action by a business” with two exceptions. First, the Program recognizes the right of employers to maintain policies regarding drug use in the workplace. Second, employers are not required to do any act that would cause the employer to violate federal law or cause it to lose a federal contract or funding. Marijuana, whether medicinal or recreational, remains an illegal drug under federal law.
Retail employers may wish to notify their human resources personnel and managers about the Program and instruct them to analyze each case of employee marijuana use on an individual basis.