New Jersey's Supreme Court, in an historic ruling, decided that medical marijuana patients cannot be fired for failing a drug test.
The March 9th ruling defines protections for more than 71,000 medical marijuana patients across the Garden state.
The Supreme Court ruling sends a clear message to employers that they cannot fire employees for simply using legal medical cannabis while off duty.
“The big takeaway here is employers must reasonably accommodate individuals who are legal users of marijuana in the state of New Jersey, just as they would have to reasonably accommodate an employee taking any prescription medication," said Maxine Neuhauser, a Newark-based employment lawyer at Epstein Becker Green who had been following the case.
“If the individual’s ability to perform the job is not impacted by their use of medical marijuana, then you can’t just fire them for a positive drug test,” Neuhauser said, per NorthJersey.com following the decision.
The lawsuit was initially brought by Justin Wild, a funeral director, who had been diagnosed with cancer.
In 2015, under what was then called the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, Wild’s physician recommended he use medical marijuana to ease his pain.
A year later, Wild was involved in a minor car accident while on duty, prompting his boss to oblige him to take a drug test before returning to work, according to court records.
About a month later Wild received a letter from the corporate owner of the funeral home where he worked notifying him that he was fired “not because of his drug use, but because he failed to disclose his use of medication which might adversely affect his ability to perform his job duties,” an appeals court decision reads.
But Wild's boss had also told him he was “being terminated because they found drugs" in his system.
Justin Wild fought for medical marijuana patient rights
Wild, in his early 40s, proceeded to file a lawsuit noting that, in part, his termination violated New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination, which protects employees with disabilities from discrimination and firing.
When a Superior Court judge dismissed his claims and sided with the funeral home, which argued that it was not aware of Wild's disability, his case went to the Supreme Court.
A clear message to New Jersey employers about cannabis
Employers can’t inject themselves into personal medical decisions of the employee, said attorney Dillon McGuire who argued on behalf of the ACLU-NJ when the case began in February 2020. “The court’s decision in this case will have far broader implications for employees using medical marijuana throughout the state of New Jersey.
“A clear message must be sent to employers that, absent compelling circumstances, they cannot dictate their employees’ access to the medications that alleviate their pain,” McGuire said.
“Every one of us has the constitutional and common law right to make our own medical decisions, and those decisions are ours and nobody else’s to make.”