Medical marijuana is a hotly debated issue in many areas of the country. For many patients with serious health issues, marijuana can help relieve a patient’s pain and suffering, can help relieve nausea, can increase appetite, relaxes muscles, decreases eye pressure, can help with seizures, and can decrease inflammation. Proponents of medical marijuana argue that it would greatly benefit some people with health problems and could provide much-needed tax money to cities and states. Opponents of medical marijuana argue that the medical benefits of marijuana haven’t been fully proven, and worry that it would not be properly regulated and could lead to addiction.

Currently, 23 states (including California) and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. A few other states have pending legislation. Federal law still prohibits the use, sale, and possession of marijuana. The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Recently, a woman who uses medical marijuana to treat her migraine headaches applied for a two-month internship at a textile company in Rhode Island. She was not hired, and she is suing the company, claiming that it illegally discriminated against her by failing to hire her. She claims that after working out the details of the internship, she was asked to meet with the human resources department of the company, but all indications were that the meeting was a formality and that she would have the position.

During the meeting with HR, she disclosed that she had a medical issue and that she used medical marijuana, but promised that she would not bring the drug to the company or use it before work. A few days later, two employees called her and told her they could not employ her because she used medical marijuana. Medical marijuana is legal in Rhode Island. In order to obtain it, a patient must get permission from a doctor and an identification card from the state.

This situation is not unusual. Other states that have legalized medical marijuana have had employees in those states sue for discrimination at work based on the marijuana use. Patients have been fired, disciplined, or not hired after either disclosing their use of medical marijuana, or after failing drug tests.

Patients who use medical marijuana are put in a tough position in many cases. The medical marijuana may greatly help their medical conditions and may not interfere with their jobs at all. However, they may worry if their employer or potential employer finds out about the marijuana use, they may be perceived as a “pothead” and may not be hired, or may be fired.

Federal employment discrimination laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of a disability, which is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a person’s major life activities. Many people who use medical marijuana may qualify as disabled under federal law. If a person is disabled, he or she cannot be discriminated against in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, benefits, etc., because of the disability. An employer also must provide a reasonable accommodation to the employee, if it would not result in a significant hardship to the employer.

However, most courts that have looked at this issue so far have in general ruled in favor of the employer. An employer does have to provide a reasonable accommodation, but most courts that have looked at the issue have ruled that simply because a person has the legal right to use marijuana for a medical condition doesn’t mean that the employer has to accommodate that drug use. Marijuana use is still illegal under federal law, and federal law does not protect employees who use illegal drugs.

It’s unfortunate that you have medical issues that require you to take medical marijuana. If you believe that you have been discriminated against in the workplace because of your medical marijuana use, you may have some legal options. Call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland employment attorney, at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000 to learn more.

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