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Medical marijuana use is a reasonable accommodation in Massachusetts despite federal ban

On July 17, 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of a woman challenging her termination for testing positive for medical marijuana use. The six judge panel found in her favor after determining her doctor's prescription for medical marijuana should have been treated as a reasonable accommodation for her disability. While not binding on California courts, it is anticipated that other cases will follow in other states, like California, where medical marijuana is legal under state law, although it remains illegal at the federal level.

This ground breaking case centered around the termination of Christina Barbuto from Advantage Sales and Marketing. Having been prescribed the drug to curb side effects of Crohns disease, Barbuto claimed that she had been fired following her first day of work due to a positive drug test for the medication. The employer argued that it had authority to terminate her employment for testing positive, since use of marijuana is illegal under federal law. The panel rejected the employer's reasoning, and voted unanimously that the employee, not the employer, would be subject to prosecution under federal law and that an exception to the employer's drug policy would be a reasonable accommodation. By ruling in favor of the employee, the court made it clear that medical marijuana is to be treated as any other medication. This decision, and others likely to follow, put employers in a precarious position when it comes to accommodations for employees who are prescribed the drug.

In California, a positive drug test for marijuana use remains a valid ground for termination. However, this is an area that is in a state of flux. Employers should contact their employment counsel when this issue arises, as the law in this area is subject to fluctuate in the coming months.

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