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On the Job: Can Employers Fire Medical Marijuana Patients?

medical marijuana patients

Connecticut medical cannabis patient Jeffrey Rigoletti is suing Amazon, Inc. and Integrity Staffing Solutions for discrimination. Eleven days before he was due to start work at an Amazon warehouse in Windsor on Oct. 24, he was informed that he would not be hired due to his marijuana use.

Rigoletti has a doctor’s recommendation to use medical cannabis for PTSD, and said he was upfront about it with the staffing company who helped get him hired. The suit was filed with the state in December.

“No employer may refuse to hire a person or may discharge, penalize or threaten an employee solely on the basis of such person’s or employee’s status as a qualifying patient or primary caregiver,” reads the state’s medical cannabis law. The statute makes clear that employers are still allowed “to prohibit the use of intoxicating substances during work hours.”

Rigoletti’s case is similar to other ones in legal medical cannabis states, but courts have usually ruled against the patient. In the case of Brandon Coats, who sued Dish Network for firing him for his off-duty medical marijuana use, the Colorado Supreme Court determined he was guilty in 2015. While state law prohibits such discrimination, the highest court in the state found the termination lawful, since any cannabis use is still in violation of federal law.

While such rulings aren’t heartening for Rigoletti, his lawyer Matthew D. Paradisi is hopeful that the case will send a message to employers. “You can’t frown upon this [medical marijuana] or discriminate against someone for taking what amounts to be their medication,” he told the Connecticut Law Tribune.

“He was turned away from a $14.50 per hour job in violation of Connecticut State law that makes it illegal for employers to refuse to hire solely on the basis of an applicant receiving legally prescribed marijuana,” Connecticut attorney Matthew Maddox contends. “Is Mr. Rigoletti a more reliable, productive employee when he takes his prescribed marijuana? Are other employees who take an anti-depressant or an anti-anxiety medication or any other drug more reliable, productive employees when they take their medicine as prescribed? I don’t know. I’m just a lawyer, but I’m guessing that the answer is usually ‘yes’.”

Despite previous setbacks in courts, there’s at least one success story. In June, Michael Hirsch, a programmer for Lane County, Ore., got his job back and received more than $21,000 in back pay in an arbitration ruling. The arbitrator decided that Hirsch’s employer couldn’t provide any evidence that his off-duty medical marijuana impacted his job performance.

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