Medical marijuana users could get job protections under N.J. court ruling

In this Friday, March 22, 2019 photo, Paige Dellafave-DeRosa, a processing supervisor at Compassionate Care Foundation's medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., sorts marijuana buds. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

In this Friday, March 22, 2019 photo, Paige Dellafave-DeRosa, a processing supervisor at Compassionate Care Foundation's medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., sorts marijuana buds. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

A New Jersey appellate court ruled that a funeral director who was fired for using medical marijuana to treat his cancer may have been wrongfully terminated.

The opinion, first reported by NJ.com, could have repercussions for users in the Garden State’s ever-expanding medical cannabis program, which has more than 42,000 patients.

Laura Link, an attorney with Archer, said the ruling could be a precursor to a future ruling that permanently blocks employers from discriminating against workers who legally use medical marijuana.

“Employees that are using medical marijuana now can sleep a little bit better knowing that it’s likely — although not guaranteed — that they’re going to get a decision that says just that in the near future,” Link said.

Although the state’s medical marijuana law doesn’t require employers to accommodate workers who use the prescribed drug, the appellate court found the state’s law against discrimination may still protect them.

“Just as the Compassionate Use Act imposes no burden on defendants, it negates no rights or claims available to plaintiff that emanate from the [Law Against Discrimination],” the opinion reads.

Link said courts are acknowledging the difficulty of separating a person’s disability from her treatment plan.

“If we imagine a situation where an employer says, ‘Oh, I’m not terminating them because they’re paralyzed. I’m terminating them because I really don’t like wheelchairs,’” Link said. “That, obviously, would be a violation of the disability discrimination laws.”

David Lopez, a co-dean of the Rutgers University Law School and the former general counsel of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said the opinion was a win for workers.

“[The opinion] really, I think, reaffirmed the ability — at least on the facts of this case — of individuals who are using marijuana for medicinal reasons to assert that as part of a disability claim,” he said.

The case now returns to the trial court for reconsideration.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.