As previously chronicled in EmployNews, a small but growing number of states that have legalized medical marijuana use have recognized employees’ rights not to be subject to adverse treatment by their employers due to such use. Last month, a federal district court interpreting Connecticut law joined this trend, rejecting a claim that federal law pre-empts state medical marijuana user protections.
In Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Co., LLC, the plaintiff’s conditional job offer with the defendant was revoked after she failed a pre-employment drug test. She provided the employer with a doctor’s prescription for marijuana to treat her PTSD symptoms. She sued under a Connecticut state law that prohibits employers from discriminating against medical marijuana users. The employer contended that it is subject to the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act (DFWA), and that the federal classification of marijuana as a Class I controlled substance pre-empts state law.
The district court disagreed, holding for the plaintiff. The court said that the DFWA only requires employers to make efforts to keep the workplace free of illegal drug use. It does not prohibit them from employing persons who use medical marijuana outside of work to treat their conditions. The DFWA does not mandate drug testing, and in this circumstance, did not pre-empt the Connecticut law.
Employers with operations in multiple states need to monitor developments and adapt their drug use policies based on the employee’s work location. As more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana, state legislatures will come under increased pressure to address situations where employers can take adverse action against persons who use legal marijuana.