For the first time, a federal court has ruled that an employer has violated a state law preventing discrimination against medical marijuana patients. This ruling could be a landmark case for the rights of medical marijuana patients across the country.
The case in question goes back to 2016, when Katelin Noffsinger found out her job offer at the Bride Brook Health & Rehabilitation Center in Hartford, Connecticut was being rescinded after she tested positive for THC, the compound in marijuana that gets you high. Noffsinger had been taking synthetic marijuana pills to treat PTSD stemming from a car accident in 2012.
Taking those pills was legal under Connecticut law. And Noffsinger notified Bride Brook that she was a cannabis patient when she accepted the job. And yet she still lost the position after the failed drug test.
Following the incident, Bride Book justified their decision by clarifying that they are a federal contractor, which means they could lose their government funding if they hired someone who was actively using a federally prohibited substance like cannabis.
But that explanation didn't satisfy US District Judge Jeffrey Meyer, who has ruled that Bride Brook violated state laws by discriminating against Noffsinger because of her medication. Judge Meyer noted that the federal Drug Free Workplace Act - the guidelines that many federal contractors rely on for drug policies - doesn't require drug testing, or prohibit contractors from hiring medical marijuana patients who use the substance outside of work hours.
This ruling follows a number of similar ones that have come out of state courts in recent months, but it is the first time that a federal court has deferred to state law instead of federal prohibition when deciding an issue of cannabis in the workplace. And it will likely become an influential case as more patients come forward to defend their right to use medical marijuana.
"This is a very significant case that throws the issue in doubt for many of these federal contractors," employment attorney Fiona Ong told TIME. "It's certainly interesting and may be indicative of where the courts are going with this."
While only a handful of states have implemented anti-discrimination laws to protect medical marijuana patients, employers in all of the 31 states that have approved medical cannabis should expect challenges to any policies that discriminate against patients.