Medical marijuana patients in America won a historic victory yesterday when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that employers cannot fire patients for using medical cannabis. The ruling sets a precedent in Massachusetts that can also be used by courts in the other 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana.
The ruling followed the case of Christina Barbuto - an Advantage Sales and Marketing employee who tested positive for marijuana back in 2014. Soon afterward, the company's human resources rep informed Barbuto that she was being dismissed for failing the test - even though she was a doctor-certified medical marijuana patient. Barbuto's physician recommended using cannabis to treat her Crohn's disease, which is one of the conditions approved for medicinal cannabis when Massachusetts legalized it in 2012. She says that she does not use marijuana every day, and she never uses it while on the job.
Nevertheless, Advantage went ahead with the dismissal, saying that they deferred to federal law, which still prohibits cannabis for medical as well as recreational use.
But now the state's top court says employers can't use federal law to justify terminating medical marijuana patients.
"The fact that the employee's possession of medical marijuana is in violation of federal law does not make it per se unreasonable as an accommodation," Justice Ralph Gants wrote in the court's unanimous decision. He added that if a physician decides medical marijuana is the best treatment for an employee's condition, then "an exception to an employer's drug policy to permit its use is a facially reasonable accommodation."
The six-judge panel also decided that if the feds intervene in these cases, then the employee - not the company - would be penalized for using marijuana. So Advantage wasn't liable for employing a patient.
Barbuto's lawyer heralded the ruling as a "groundbreaking decision."
"This is the highest court in Massachusetts recognizing that the use of medically prescribed marijuana is just as lawful as the use of any prescribed medication," he said.
And the historic precedent could have ripple effects in other states.
"I can't stress this enough, it's the first case of its kind in the country," said Dale Deitchler - a labor and employment law attorney who is a shareholder in the firm Littler Mendelson. "Massachusetts is not a state where such protections are written in the law so this is really significant...The court created law."
Of course, the fight for medical marijuana patients will continue until the federal government repeals marijuana prohibition. But Barbuto's win could help thousands of patients fight against cannabis discrimination in the workplace.
h/t MassLive, Reuters