Fired MMJ Patient Can Sue Employer, Federal Court Rules

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Employers can be sued for refusing to hire applicants who test positive for medical marijuana, a federal judge in Connecticut ruled last week.

While the ruling alone doesn’t yet protect medical marijuana patients, it advances a lawsuit that could eventually carve out workplace protections for legal cannabis use.

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In the case, Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Co., therapist Katelin Noffsinger is alleging that the company reneged on its decision to hire her for a position at Bride Book Nursing and Rehabilitation Center because she acknowledged using medical marijuana.

Noffsinger, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, began taking doctor-recommended THC capsules in 2015, according to the lawsuit. She takes them every night to help her sleep.

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Niantic, CT-based Bride Brook hired Noffsinger in July 2016. Ahead of a pre-employment drug screening, she informed the company that she was a medicinal marijuana patient with a doctor’s recommendation for cannabis.

According to Noffsinger’s complaint, one day before she was supposed to start her new job—and after she had quit her former job—Bride Brook rescinded her job offer, citing the positive drug test.

Noffsinger alleges that action was discriminatory and violated Connecticut’s law allowing medical cannabis consumption. Bride Brook argued that the federal Controlled Substances Act preempts state law permitting medical cannabis.

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In his ruling allowing the lawsuit to proceed, US District Court Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer wrote that the  CSA doesn’t preempt state law in such circumstances:

This lawsuit calls upon me to decide if federal law preempts Connecticut law. In particular, I must decide if federal law precludes enforcement of a Connecticut law that prohibits employers from firing or refusing to hire someone who uses marijuana for medicinal purposes. I conclude that the answer to that question is ‘no’ and that a plaintiff who uses marijuana for medicinal purposes in compliance with Connecticut law may maintain a cause of action against an employer who refuses to employ her for this reason.

As the ruling was at the trial-court level, it doesn’t establish precedent that would apply to other fired workers who sue employers. Nevertheless it provides a test case that could signal how future cases will unfold.

Courts in many legal states have ruled that medical marijuana laws do not protect employees from being fired for cannabis use. That changed abruptly last month when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that denying employment on the grounds that a prospective employee uses medical cannabis could violate antidiscrimination laws by failing to reasonably accommodate the employee’s medical condition.