In a major victory for medical marijuana patients, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Monday that employers can no longer fire patients for using medical cannabis. The legal leverage for this rule was found in the state’s policies about discrimination against workers with disabilities, as reported by Leafly.
In the ruling, Massachusetts became the first state to defend workers’ rights to licensed medical cannabis consumption. The Bay State broke ranks with the many other states which have voted previously to side with federal regulations on the issue. In 2015, Colorado ruled against a paralyzed telephone operator who had sued Dish Network over his termination for using legal medical cannabis while off-duty.
California, Montana, and Washington have all gone the same way.
But it’s a new day now that Massachusetts has sided with workers instead of employers on the issue.
The ruling came about after Cristina Barbuto filed suit over her wrongful termination from Advantage Sales and Marketing (ASM). When Barbuto was forced to take a mandatory drug test, she informed the company that she uses medical marijuana to treat the serious autoimmune disorder Crohn’s disease.
Barbuto’s superior said her MMJ use wouldn’t be a problem, but later, after only one day of work, a human resources representative fired Barbuto for coming up positive for cannabis in her drug test. The representative told Barbuto that, “We follow federal law, not state law,” according to court records.
That’s when Barbuto filed her lawsuit. It took three years, but she got her victory this week. Massachusetts state justices concluded that, “An employee’s use of medical marijuana under these circumstances is not facially unreasonable as an accommodation of her handicap.”
The ruling means that there will likely be more worker protections for MMJ patients in the state, particularly when their use is tied to a disabling condition. But it does not mean that it will be open season for employees to puff on MMJ spliffs all day long.
The court left the caveat that employers may not have to honor their employees’ medical cannabis use if that use “would create undue hardship” on the employer. Examples of this would include workers employed doing tasks that require operating heavy machinery or driving, people such as truck drivers or pilots.
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