Connecticut Medical Marijuana Law Protects Job Applicant Who Failed Drug Test

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 25, 2017

In a first-of-its-kind ruling, a federal court has held that the federal marijuana ban does not preempt a Connecticut law protecting job applicants and employees from employment discrimination based on medical marijuana use.

In Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Company, the district court reasoned that the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) does not make it illegal to employ a medical marijuana user, nor does it attempt to regulate employment practices in any manner. The ruling is the first to find a cause of action under Connecticut's Palliative Use of Marijuana Act, which permits medical marijuana use for qualifying patients with certain debilitating medical conditions.

The case involves a woman, Katelin Noffsinger, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her doctors recommended medical marijuana to treat her PTSD, and she registered with the state as a qualifying patient.

A nursing facility offered Noffsinger a job as its director of recreational therapy, which she accepted. A few days later, she disclosed her disability to the facility's administrator, but explained that she only took the marijuana tablets before bed and was never impaired during the work day. Noffsinger offered to provide additional medical documentation, but the administrator did not request it.

However, when Noffsinger failed a routine pre-employment drug test, the facility rescinded the job offer. In the meantime, she could not continue in the position with her former employer because it had already been filled.

Even in states where medical marijuana is legal, courts have generally found that employers are not precluded from terminating employment or rescinding a job offer based on a failed drug test. But the tide may be shifting.

In May, a Rhode Island state court found a company liable for refusing to hire a medical marijuana cardholder because she could not pass a preemployment drug test. And in a similar case in July, the Massachusetts Supreme Court cleared the way for a lawful medical marijuana user to sue her former employer for handicap discrimination.

What makes this federal case in Connecticut unique is its analysis of why Congress did not intend for the CSA to preempt state medical marijuana laws unless there is a direct conflict. Since the court found the CSA nowhere prohibits employers from hiring applicants who may be engaged in drug use, it explained that the employer cannot claim a conflict. Thus, the jilted job applicant may proceed with her lawsuit.