CAN A RHODE ISLAND EMPLOYER DISCRIMINATE AGAINST YOU FOR USING MEDICAL MARIJUANA?

Your right to lawfully use medical marijuana outside of the workplace and in a manner that does not negatively impact your ability to perform your job may not be impeded by your employer.

That is what a Rhode Island Superior Court recently decided in a landmark decision. Employees or job applicants who are lawful medical marijuana cardholders can mostly rest assured that an employer cannot use drug testing or other means to take negative employment action including refusal to hire, refusal to promote, or termination.

The Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act, G.L. 1956 §§ 21-28.6-1 et seq. provides that: “No school, employer, or landlord may refuse to enroll, employ, or lease to, or otherwise penalize, a person solely for his or her status as a cardholder.” Enterprising employers have interpreted this statute to allow them to discriminate against medical marijuana users by drug testing them. These employers then refuse to hire, or even terminate, employees. They have sought to distinguish discrimination based upon cardholder status from discrimination based upon medical marijuana use. The Superior Court has forcefully struck down this line of argument.

In the relevant case, an employer refused to hire an applicant for an internship based upon her inability to pass a drug test. She could not pass the test because she used, and needed, medical marijuana. When she was forced to file a lawsuit, the employer argued that the statute did not prohibit discrimination based upon marijuana use. Instead, the employer contended it only protected against discrimination based upon cardholder status. The Superior Court wisely held that such a distinction would make it impossible for the statute to ever apply since every cardholder would also be a marijuana user.

The court made it clear that medical marijuana use could lead to negative employment actions if it affects an employee’s job performance. The court also reiterated an employer’s right to prohibit marijuana use at the workplace. But outside these, and some other statutory exceptions, the law is clear that employers may not otherwise use a medical marijuana cardholder’s use against them. If an employer has fired you, refused to hire or promote you, or demoted you because of your medical marijuana use, Enright Law can discuss the circumstances with you and help you enforce your rights.