A surprising ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court has in effect sent a warning to employers hoping to fire employees who use medical marijuana in legal states. The courts ruling in the case of Christina Barbuto, who was fired for using medical marijuana, sets a national precedent protecting an employees right to sue for discrimination if terminated for consuming medical cannabis.
Christina had been hired by Advantage Sales and Marketing, who despite the state’s medical marijuana laws, considered themselves a drug-free workplace. After starting work, Christina’s drug test results came back positive for marijuana. Christina suffers from Crohn’s disease and had been prescribed medical marijuana to stimulate her appetite. Shortly after starting work, she was terminated, despite her ailment and doctor’s prescription.
According to Chief Justice Ralph Gants, “an exception to an employer’s drug policy to permit its use is a facially reasonable accommodation.” The decision was based on the idea that if a doctor believes medical cannabis is the best treatment for their patient, an employer has no right to stand in the way. Gants continued, “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.”
The unanimous decision by the six member court found that the employer could not be held liable under federal law under any circumstance, which is was the argument put forth, and that federally the liability falls solely on the employee. This upends all of the arguments put forth by employers who refuse to hire medical marijuana patients in every state that allows the legal consumption of medical cannabis. The decision comes at the same time when the state has announced an overhaul of the medical marijuana system.
The ruling has much further reaching implication than employer-employee relations when it comes to cannabis. The ruling’s logic would extend to landlord-tenant, school-student and many more relationships where cannabis could have caused a justified division. The precedent set will in effect provide solid legal ground for anyone wanting to sue for discrimination after being provided a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana.
Cory Hughes is a former police officer turned cannabis cultivator and writer. After years of being on the wrong side of the law, Cory decided to hang up his badge and gun and move into an industry that truly has the potential of bringing people together. He has been an active part of the Colorado cannabis culture and has worked as a horticulturist in dozens of licensed grow operations. Cory now looks to share his knowledge of cultivation and horticulture with the world.