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Employee Entitled to Protection for Medical Marijuana Use

A Connecticut federal court has upheld an employee’s right to use medical marijuana outside of work and an employer’s obligation to accommodate it.

Katelin Noffsinger suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and her doctors recommended marijuana to treat her symptoms. She was recruited by Bride Brook Nursing & Rehabilitation Center to be its director of recreational therapy. Upon her offer of employment and prior to the required drug screen, Ms. Noffsinger let them know that she used Marinol (a synthetic form of marijuana) in the evening before she went to bed. It did not impact her during the workday. The drug screen revealed the marijuana use and Bride Brook withdrew its offer of employment. Ms. Noffsinger sued under Connecticut’s statute legalizing the use of marijuana for medical use. The employer argued that the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) preempted her claims.

The federal district court held that the state statute prevailed over each of the federal statutes asserted. With respect to the CSA, the court concluded that while it does prohibit marijuana use, the statute does not address the employment of marijuana users and in fact, does not address any employment practices. Thus, it did not apply to Ms. Noffsinger’s action. Similarly, the court found that the FDCA did not regulate workplace issues. With regard to the ADA, the court noted that its primary intent was to protect employees from discrimination. Employers under the ADA may stop employees from using marijuana at work but there is no authority for them to discriminate against marijuana use outside of work hours. Ms. Noffsinger may pursue her discrimination claim.