The growing number of jurisdictions permitting medical marijuana is putting employers in a tough position. One the one hand, marijuana remains illegal under federal law and a workforce under the influence isn’t much of a workforce at all. On the other hand, 23 states and the District of Columbia now permit the use of marijuana for regulated medical purposes and some state laws include anti-discrimination provisions prohibiting employers from taking action against employees based on their status as a registered medical marijuana user.
A first-of-its-kind lawsuit demonstrates the conundrum. In December, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in a Rhode Island state court on behalf of an individual who allegedly was denied an internship after she disclosed that she lawfully carried a medical marijuana card for severe migraines.
According to the complaint, the company told the applicant that she had been rejected because of her status as a cardholder, and despite promises not to bring medical marijuana on the premises or come to work under the influence, the applicant was denied the position.
The lawsuit charges that the company violated Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law which prohibits schools, employers, and landlords from refusing “to enroll, employ, or lease to, or otherwise penalize, a person solely for his or her status as a cardholder.” The complaint – which also includes allegations of disability discrimination under state law – seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
Employers in states permitting medical marijuana would be well-advised to review their relevant law when considering marijuana use or marijuana-related criminal records in employment decisions. While Rhode Island is not alone in including an anti-discrimination requirement in its law, joined by Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, and New York, other states – including California, Massachusetts, and New York – are clear that employers have no obligation to accommodate an employee’s medical marijuana use or permit them to work under the influence.
Read the complaint.