Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws legalizing medical marijuana. In the face of this trend of legalization, questions often arise as to the rights of medical marijuana users in the workplace. A recent Rhode Island lawsuit asks this question.
Earlier this month, the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of an applicant for an internship who alleges that she was unlawfully denied the position after disclosing that she used medical marijuana.
In the complaint, the applicant alleges she lawfully carried a medical marijuana card, which was issued to her because of debilitating migraine headaches. The applicant alleged that she applied for an internship position and had numerous formal discussions with the employer about the nature and logistics of the program. According to the complaint, the position was effectively hers, even though a formal offer had not been extended.
She alleges, however, that after she disclosed her medical condition and status as a cardholder under the state’s medical marijuana law, she was rejected for the internship. She alleges that the employer told her it could not hire her because of her current status as a medical marijuana patient. Even after the applicant explained that she would not bring medical marijuana onto the premises or come to work after having used marijuana, she was denied the position.
The lawsuit alleges violations of the state medical marijuana law, which prohibits employers from refusing to employ a person solely because of his or her status as medical marijuana cardholder. (Notably absent from the lawsuit are claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, likely because medical marijuana is not lawful under federal law.)
A handful of other states with medical marijuana laws impose similar nondiscrimination requirements, including Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada and New York. However, the medical marijuana laws of many states—including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey—expressly provide that an employer has no obligation to (1) accommodate an employee’s medical marijuana use or (2) permit employees to report to work under the influence.
Given that state medical marijuana laws afford employees differing levels of protection, employers should be cautious before taking adverse action against employees and job applicants because of such use. At the same time, though, employers should remember that simply because an employee has a medical marijuana card does not necessarily excuse poor performance, workplace misconduct, or violation of drug policies.