State Law Trumps Federal Law When Firing or Refusing to Hire Someone Due to Use of Medical Marijuana

As noted in some of our earlier posts, a growing number of states have allowed marijuana use when it is used for medicinal purposes. This is despite the fact that federal law still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, on par with heroin and cocaine. Because of the growing use of medical marijuana, more and more litigation is arising. In Connecticut, a recent court decision firmly announced that state law trumped federal law when dealing with employment issues related to medical marijuana use.

Connecticut is one of a growing number of states to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Connecticut also bars employers from firing or refusing to hire an employee who uses medical marijuana in compliance with the requirements of Connecticut law. This is contrasted by federal law, which prohibits the use of marijuana even for medical purposes.

This dispute came to a head recently, and on August 8, 2017, state law prevailed in Connecticut. The question before the court in the case of Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Company LLC, 2017 WL 3401260, was whether federal law precluded enforcement of a Connecticut law that prohibited employers from firing or refusing to hire someone who used marijuana for medicinal purposes. The court held that any person who used marijuana for medicinal purposes in compliance with Connecticut law may maintain a cause of action against an employer who refused to employ them for this reason.

As the legal use of medical marijuana continues to expand across various jurisdictions, this type of ruling may become more commonplace. Employers should take note of how their state laws are written governing the use of medical marijuana when determining if a positive drug test for cannabis is grounds for termination or rescission of a job offer. Failure to do so could open them up to new lawsuits, similar to the one in Connecticut.

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