Aug 31 2018
Medical marijuana has been legal in Connecticut for a number of years now, but if you are employed in the state and legally use medical marijuana, how does it affect your employment?
The Palliative Use of Marijuana Act
Under Connecticut law, employees and job applicants who legally use medical marijuana generally cannot be subject to employment discrimination on that basis. Section 21a-408p of the Connecticut General Statutes, which is part of the Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (or “PUMA”), states: “No employer may refuse to hire a person or may discharge, penalize[,] or threaten an employee solely on the basis of such person’s or employee’s status as a qualifying patient or primary caregiver” under the PUMA.
As with many laws, though, there is an exception. The statute goes on to say: “Nothing in this [provision] shall restrict an employer’s ability to prohibit the use of intoxicating substances during work hours or restrict an employer’s ability to discipline an employee for being under the influence of intoxicating substances during work hours.” The law also creates an exception where “required by federal law or required to obtain federal funding.”
Boiling it down, employees who are legally entitled to use medical marijuana under Connecticut law can use marijuana off the clock, so long as they are not under the influence when they go to work. And if an employee is terminated from a job or denied a job offer merely because the employee or applicant tests positive for marijuana during a drug screening, the employee may be entitled to legal relief.
Answering Unanswered Questions
Connecticut’s law seems pretty clear: employers cannot discriminate on the basis of medical marijuana use. In reality, though, the law left a number of unanswered questions, including:
- Does the PUMA create a private right of action for individual employees, or can it only be enforced by the government?;
- How can marijuana use be protected if it’s still illegal under federal law?; and
- When can an employer terminate a medical marijuana user as “required by federal law or required to obtain federal funding”?
Last year, for the first time, a federal district court in Connecticut had to answer these questions. The case, Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Company, LLC, involved a Connecticut woman who used marijuana to treat PTSD. She received a job offer from a nursing home, but when she tested positive for cannabis on a pre-employment drug test, her job offer was rescinded. She then sued under PUMA.
In a detailed opinion addressing these unanswered questions, Judge Jeffrey Meyer reached a number of important conclusions. First, he said, PUMA does create a private right of action for individual employees. Second, he held that nothing in federal law prohibits Connecticut from protecting medical marijuana from discrimination under state law. And third, he dismissed as “border[ing] on the absurd” the argument that an employer is “required by federal law” to terminate medical marijuana users merely because the employer’s industry is subject to federal law. After all, every industry in America is subject to federal law, and the Connecticut legislature could not have intended the protections in PUMA to be meaningless.
As a trial court judge, Judge Meyer’s ruling is not binding upon any of his colleagues on the federal bench or on Connecticut’s state courts. However, his respected status means that his opinion in Noffsinger will be taken very seriously and could potentially be adopted by the Connecticut Supreme Court when it eventually considers these issues.
Has This Happened to You?
If your employer or potential employer has discriminated against you, threatened to terminate your employment, or rescind an offer of employment because of your legal use of medical marijuana, you can take legal action. The employment attorneys at Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C. have decades of experience fighting for the rights of Connecticut’s workers. Contact us today to learn how we can assist you.