On March 27, 2019, the New Jersey Appellate Division decided that the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination’s (NJLAD’s) protection of employees’ use of prescription medication trumps the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act’s (CUMMA’s) statement that it does not require employers to “accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.” In Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., et al, Docket No. A-3072-17T3 (App. Div. March 27, 2019) the panel held that an employee whose employment was terminated for using medical marijuana could overcome a motion to dismiss, and that the NJLAD may require an employer to provide an accommodation to a medical marijuana user, despite New Jersey’s medical marijuana laws providing that such an accommodation is not required.
The case involved a funeral director who was fired after a positive drug test and a violation of the employer’s drug use policy. The plaintiff claimed that he only used medical marijuana at night, after work, to treat symptoms of his cancer. The plaintiff claimed that the CUMMA permitted his use of prescribed marijuana, and the NJLAD required his employer to accommodate that prescription use. The trial court dismissed the NJLAD claim, relying primarily on the CUMMA’s statement that “nothing in this act shall be construed to require . . . an employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.” N.J.S.A. 24:6I-14.
The Appellate Division, however, disagreed, essentially holding that the statement in the CUMMA that it does not “require” an employer to accommodate marijuana use does not supersede another law’s requirement. The panel stated that to the CUMMA’s statement that it does not “require” an accommodation “does not mean that the [CUMMA] has immunized employers from obligations already imposed elsewhere. It would be ironic indeed if the [CUMMA] limited the [NJLAD] to permit an employer’s termination of a cancer patient’s employment by discriminating without compassion.”
The panel found nothing in the CUMMA that would replace the NJLAD’s protection of employees with disabilities, noting that “the [CUMMA] intended to cause no impact on existing employment rights.” The Appellate Division sent the matter back to the trial court for further proceedings.
The Appellate Division’s decision today may give some insight into how the courts in New Jersey may apply existing employment-related protections to licensed medical marijuana users. It could also impact the deliberations over and the language in the pending bill that would legalize adult-use marijuana, as the Legislature continues to work on that issue.