Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Patients Can No Longer Be Fired For Testing Positive For Weed

Medical marijuana patients should have the same workers rights as any employee, elevated or otherwise.

Last November, California voters said yes to Proposition 64, which made legal the recreational consumption, possession, and cultivation of weed, for anyone over the age of twenty-one. But in order for the recreational initiative to fully take effect, and to enable sales to begin within the retail market that will support such free and legal blazing down, Golden State lawmakers must now finalize a regulatory framework by January 1, 2018. 

This process is trickier than it might seem, and will have officials merging the state's new weed law, with the 1996-passed Compassionate Use Act, or Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in California.

Within the current law, however, lies an ethical dilemma for employers: Medical marijuana patients can still lose their job for testing positive for weed on a drug test. 

Christina Barbuto of Massachusetts knows this all too well. 

In 2014, when Barbuto got a job with sales and marketing firm Advantage Solutions,  she disclosed to her employer that in order to help manage her Crohn’s disease, Barbuto used a treatment regimen that included medical marijuana. The Massachusetts woman claims that during the hiring process, the company said her status as a mmj patient wouldn’t be a problem. But on her first day working for the company, Barbuto was promptly (and like, with literally zero chill) fired, because her pre-employment drug-screening tested positive for marijuana, according to the Boston Business Journal.

Barbuto isn’t the first to be fired for her off-the-clock cannabis use, and she likely won’t be the last, so long as employers can legally fire employees for testing positive for the devil lettuce, despite also being legal mmj patients. Federal drug laws still have weed as being illegal AF, and this disconnect between state and federal law can influence how mainstream businesses draft employee policies. 

Barbuto isn’t the first to be fired for her off-duty marijuana use, and she won’t be the last.

In this particular case, however, there is an upside.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on July 17 that Barbuto could file a handicap discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, indicating that there may be oncoming justice for employees who use medical marijuana while also fearing for their jobs. The ruling also says that employers can't enforce anti-marijuana policies against employees whose doctors have recommended marijuana as a form of treatment, according to the Associated Press

Under federal law, marijuana is a Schedule I drug per the Controlled Substances Act, which governs the Drug Enforcement Administration. And the DEA’s website defines Schedule 1 drugs as having zero "currently accepted medical use, and a high potential for abuse.”

Even so, state laws are skewing more progressive with regard to the drug, and with weed being legal in more than half of the country, with recreational use legal in 8 states, access to medical marijuana research has yielded some convincing results that contrast the DEA's stance on cannabis. Simultaneously, the movement to normalize and legalize the herb at the national level has been taken up by more mainstream advocates than previously just the stoned and on-the-fringe.

Barbuto's lawyer, Matt Fogelman, has faith however, that her case has the potential to further the conversation of medical marijuana with regard to workers rights. 

"The more important point is the court has recognized that the use of medically prescribe marijuana by a qualified patient is just as lawful as the use of any other prescribed medication," Fogelman said.

If the trial is favorable to Barbuto, and her former employer faces justice, it should be seen as a sign of hope for working stoners, and professional cannabis consumers everywhere.