ACLU files disability discrimination claim on behalf of medical marijuana patient

Marijuana leaf and stethoscope
ACLU Sues for Employment Discrimination

Christine Callaghan, a University of Rhode Island graduate student, has lawfully participated in the state’s medical marijuana system since February 2013, in order to treat her migraines.

Last June, she scheduled an interview for a paid summer internship at Darlington Fabrics in Westerly, Rhode Island. At the interview, she disclosed her status as a medical marijuana patient, even specifying that she would not bring her medical marijuana onto the company’s premises, or come to work after using it.

Nonetheless, Darlington Fabrics refused to hire her.

On November 12, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island filed a lawsuit against the company on behalf of Callaghan, who was unable to find replacement summer work and is now in danger of not graduating on time.

“All companies doing business in Rhode Island need to realize that people with disabilities simply cannot be denied equal employment opportunities on the basis of the type of medication required to treat their particular condition,” ACLU attorney Carly Beauvais Iafrate said in a news release. “If employers are permitted to discriminate against those utilizing medical marijuana, then the good work done by those to enact the law will be completely undone. We cannot let this law become an empty promise.”

The lawsuit, filed in the Rhode Island Superior Court, alleges that the company’s actions constitute disability discrimination, in violation of the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act.

In addition, the lawsuit argues that the company violated the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act, which created the state’s medical marijuana system in 2006.

While 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law is one of only a handful, including Connecticut and Maine, that explicitly protects medical marijuana patients from employment discrimination.

Specifically, the state’s Medical Marijuana Act states that “No school, employer, or landlord may refuse to enroll, employ, or lease to, or otherwise penalize, a person solely for his or her status as a cardholder.”

Marijuana, however, is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it has no “currently accepted medical use in treatment.”

In 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled 2-1 that as long as marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not provide any additional protection for people using marijuana, even if protected under state law.

“We recognize that the federal government’s views on the wisdom of restricting medical marijuana use may be evolving,” the 9th Circuit wrote. “But for now Congress has determined that, for purposes of federal law, marijuana is unacceptable for medical use. We therefore necessarily conclude that the plaintiffs’ medical marijuana use is not protected by the ADA.”