While the contemporary use of medical cannabis is usually considered to have begun in 1996, the truth is that cannabis has been used in medicine since ancient times — thousands of years ago in China. Yet with all this history, it’s still surprising how many private employers still choose to discriminate against medical cannabis patients. As these recent legal rulings show, doing so continues to put employers on the wrong side of the issue.
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has ruled that workers who are fired or discriminated against for using medical cannabis have a right to sue under the state’s Medical Marijuana Act. Their unanimous decision upholds a worker’s ability to seek enforcement of the 2016 Pennsylvania state law that says employers cannot discipline or discriminate against state-certified medical cannabis patients.
The ruling pertains to a wrongful firing suit filed in 2019 by a hospital medical assistant who was certified to use medical cannabis for chronic pain, fatigue and migraines. She took a mandatory drug test while applying for a new position, informed the testing lab of her certification, and yet was fired by the hospital a week later for drug use.
The hospital argued that only the Pennsylvania Department of Health could enforce the law, and that an individual patient had no right to sue. However, the Supreme Court ruling stated that “we reject the hospital’s contention that the Department of Health is the exclusive enforcer of the provisions of the MMA and that was intended to limit the remedies available to employee patients or employers. Subsection (b) (1) specifically prohibits any employer from discharging, threatening, or refusing to hire, or discriminating or retaliating against an employee ‘solely on the basis of such employee’s status as an individual who is certified to use medical marijuana’.”
Let’s now move two states west to Michigan, where the Attorney General and Solicitor General have recently filed a brief in a related action. They wrote that employers can not disqualify ex-workers from receiving unemployment benefits on the grounds that their marijuana use was either illegal or constituted misconduct. This relates to a case where a claimant was fired for using marijuana outside of work and subsequently denied unemployment benefits. As the Attorney General said, “The people spoke loud and clear when they voted in 2018 to legalize marijuana once and for all. Nobody over 21 can be penalized or denied any right or privilege solely for legally using marijuana, and employers cannot control their employees’ private lives by calling the legal use of marijuana outside of work hours ‘misconduct’.”