Is Employment Discrimination Based On Medical Marijuana Usage Legal In Rhode Island?

An important test case has been filed in Providence Superior Court that may answer the question of whether employers are allowed to discriminate against applicants and employees who utilize marijuana for medical purposes. The case, Callaghan v. Darlington Fabrics Corp., will be the first in Rhode Island to address the rights of medical marijuana patients in the employment context.

The plaintiff in the case, a registered medical marijuana cardholder, claims that the defendant employer violated her rights under Rhode Island’s medical marijuana statute when it denied her application for employment because she uses medical marijuana to treat a serious health condition. The employer’s stated reason for not hiring the plaintiff was because of her status as a medical marijuana user. No other reason was given for the failure to hire her.

As currently drafted, Rhode Island’s law makes clear that no employer may refuse to employ or otherwise penalize a person “solely for his [or her] status as a [medical marijuana] cardholder.” On its face, the law appears to prohibit employment discrimination against medical marijuana patients like the plaintiff in the Callaghan case. However, another provision of the medical marijuana law provides that no employer is required “to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.” The language of this provision is rather broad and vague and may afford employers with a defense to employment discrimination suits.

It is unclear at this time whether the defendant employer will assert that it was not required to accommodate the plaintiff’s use of medical marijuana. For her part, the plaintiff was careful to note that she would not come to work after having used marijuana and would not bring marijuana onto company premises.

Martineau, Davis & Associates will continue to monitor developments in this important test case.

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