Earlier this week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unanimously ruled that employers in the state must provide “reasonable accommodations” for medical marijuana patients, an unprecedented decision that is likely to have a far-reaching effect across the nation.
In the landmark case, a patient named Cristina Barbuto, was fired on her first day of the job at Advantage Sales and Marketing because of a failed drug test. Barbuto is a legal medical marijuana patient in the state and sought a civil remedy against her employer by claiming handicap discrimination.
Barbuto suffers from Crohn’s disease, a debilitating gastrointestinal condition. She has documentation from her doctor and court documents show that she did not use cannabis before or during work. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with Barbuto’s claim and reverses the firing.
This is the first appellate court in any U.S. jurisdiction to hold that medical marijuana users may assert state law handicap or disability discrimination claims. The decision may provide guidance for employers to follow to avoid potential pitfalls when dealing with medical marijuana users.
According to the National Law Review:
The court also held that if a medical marijuana user is an individual with a handicap or disability — which would be the case for most if not all medical marijuana users — then that individual may assert a claim for handicap discrimination under Massachusetts state law. Thus, the court held that an employer must engage in an “interactive process” with a medical marijuana user to determine if the medical marijuana user can continue to perform his or her job duties with a reasonable accommodation to the handicap.
What does this mean for workers in other states? Does this decision create precedent that other appellate courts to follow? It’s unclear what other courts will do, but legal experts suggest that the Massachusetts ruling will have an impact nationally.
Some states, Arizona and Minnesota for example, protect employment of medical marijuana card holders whose use violates zero-tolerance policies.
But in 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that employees do not have protection from being fired if they violate their’ workplace drug policies. And similar to Colorado, the California Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that companies are not required to accommodate an employee’s use of medical marijuana. California’s Proposition 64, which passed last November, states that employers may continue to enforce zero-tolerance policies prohibiting the use of marijuana.
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In Oregon, a bill to prohibit Oregon employers from restricting or penalizing off duty marijuana consumption failed to pass.
“Patients should never have to choose between their health 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 about the Massachusetts ruling. “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.”