A New Jersey state appeals court has ruled that workers in the state cannot be fired for failing a drug test if they are registered medical marijuana patients. Similar rulings have been made in other states, but this marks another landslide win as a Superior Court decision was overturned in this appeal, protecting workers’ rights to use medical marijuana in their off-hours as recommended by their physician.
“The sweeping effect is you can no longer say, ‘You (tested) positive — you are outta here,’ ” said Maxine “Mickey” Neuhauser, an employment expert with the Newark office of the Epstein Becker and Green national law firm.
This saga started back in 2016 when funeral home worker Justin Wild was in a car accident while driving a company vehicle. Being injured in the crash, they took him to a nearby hospital where he disclosed that he was a registered medical marijuana patient. Since it was obvious that he would test positive for marijuana no drug tests were administered at the hospital, but his employer required one before allowing him to return to work. When that screening came back positive for cannabis, they fired him.
“There had been a general belief that since marijuana is illegal under federal law, employers would not have to accommodate its use by employees, even if they had a prescription for it and using it legally under state law,” Neuhauser said. “This appellate case very strongly came down in the opposite direction following the lead of other states confronted with the same issue.”
Originally, the court case claimed discrimination, but lost the case at the Superior Court level as the trial judge ruled that the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act did not require employers to make accommodations on the job. However, the state Law Against Discrimination does require that employers accommodate people with disabilities – like Wild who was diagnosed with cancer and prescribed medical marijuana as part of his treatment.
The attorneys for Feeney Funeral Home (the company Wild was fired from) and their parent company, Carriage Funeral Services, filed an appeal petitioning the Supreme Court to take the case. However, if the court declines the review and upholds the appellate ruling, then the case will finally come to a close – and subsequently usher in protection for future employees in similar situations, at least in the state of New Jersey.