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Connecticut Judge Greenlights Medical Cannabis Patient’s Lawsuit

Medical cannabis patient Katelin Noffsinger won a small victory last month that may help her win a larger battle. United States District Court of Connecticut judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer of the U.S. declined a request to dismiss Noffsinger’s lawsuit against an employer that rescinded a job offer after she tested positive for marijuana in a drug test. Noffsinger is registered in Connecticut for medical cannabis use as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The request came from defendant Niantic Operating Company, doing business as Bride Brook Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Bride Brook hired Noffsinger in July of 2016, and at the time of her hire, Noffsinger reportedly alerted the company that she had a prescription for a small amount medical marijuana, which she used every night to help her sleep. Later, after completing a pre-employment drug screening, the company rescinded the job offer just one day before she was to begin work.

Bride Brook attempted to have the case tossed on the grounds that they had the right to withdraw the job offer from Noffsinger, due to the fact that federal law trumps state law.
They argued that under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), they are protected from legal action for Noffsinger’s dismissal. The CSA designates marijuana as an illegal drug and should preempt any impeding state laws.

Judge Meyer determined the opposite to be true. “This lawsuit calls upon me to decide if federal law preempts Connecticut law. In particular, I must decide if federal law precludes enforcement of a Connecticut law that prohibits employers from firing or refusing to hire someone who uses marijuana for medicinal purposes,” he explained.

“I conclude that the answer to that question is ‘no’ and that a plaintiff who uses marijuana for medicinal purposes in compliance with Connecticut law may maintain a cause of action against an employer who refuses to employ her for this reason.”

Bride Brook also argued that the state’s Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (PUMA), which contains an anti-discrimination clause for employers, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA stipulates that an employer may terminate any employee for illicit drug use in the workplace.

However, as the judge pointed out, this was not the issue with Noffsinger. She never used marijuana in the workplace itself, and the ADA does not explicitly condemn use outside of the workplace.

The court’s ruling on this request has helped Noffsinger make headway and also echoes similar rulings in recent history. In July, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that a registered medical marijuana patient may sue her former employer for handicap discrimination after they terminated her for failing a drug test. Likewise, the New York City’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings backed a registered medical marijuana patient who had his taxi and limousine driving license revoked for failing a drug test.

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