Massachusetts’ top court ruled on Monday that a woman who was allegedly fired for using medical marijuana can sue her former employer for handicap discrimination. The woman, who is diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, had been legally prescribed by state law to treat her disease.
Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court today sent the woman’s case back to Superior Court after it was dismissed in 2015. Christina Barbuto claims her employers at Advantage Sales and Marketing said her marijuana use wouldn’t be a problem, but then she was fired after her first day when she tested positive for cannabis.
The former employers argued that Barbuto couldn’t sue for handicap discrimination because possessing marijuana is still illegal under federal law. However, the top court ruled in favor of Barbuto.
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Lawyers for Barbuto said the ruling represents a major win for other employees in Massachusetts and set a precedent they believe could have an impact in other states where medicinal marijuana is legal. Barbuto had been prescribed with marijuana to treat her lack of appetite, a side effect of Crohn’s disease.
Chief Justice Ralph Gants wrote in the ruling that if a doctor concludes medical marijuana is the most effective treatment for an employee’s condition, an exception to an employer’s drug policy to permit it is a “facially reasonable accommodation.”
“The fact that the employee’s possession of medical marijuana is in violation of federal law does not make it per se unreasonable as an accommodation,” wrote Gants, according to Reuters.
Furthermore, the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that only the employee, not the employer, could have been subject to prosecution under federal law for her marijuana use. The ruling received unanimous consent from the six-judge panel.
The ruling reversed a decision that had dismissed Barbuto’s 2015 handicap discrimination lawsuit against the company.
A lawyer for Advantage Sales and Marketing told The Boston Globe they are confident that the company acted by the law.
Massachusett’s top court ruling sets precedents for medical marijuana use in employees
Medicinal marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts in 2012, joining a majority of U.S. states that allow for cannabis’ therapeutic use. In November last year, recreational marijuana was also legalized in the state.
Barbuto’s lawyer, Matthew Fogelman, described the ruling as a “groundbreaking decision.”
“This is the highest court in Massachusetts recognizing that the use of medically prescribed marijuana is just as lawful as the use of any prescribed medication,” said Fogelman, according to Reuters.
Barbuto claimed in her lawsuit that she had been prescribed medical marijuana to treat her Crohn’s disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Crohn’s disease is a common inflammatory bowel disease. The condition affects the entire digestive tract, which in Barbuto’s case, left her with a small appetite.
She noted once she started using medical marijuana, she regained her appetite and was able to maintain a healthy weight.