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Rhode Island: Employers Cannot Refuse to Hire Employees Because of Medical Marijuana Use

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The Rhode Island Superior Court recently stated that employers cannot refuse to hire a prospective employee on the basis that the employee might fail a pre-employment drug screen due to medical marijuana use.

This decision arose from Callaghan v. Darlington Fabrics Corporation and The Moore Company, in which the plaintiff complained that she was discriminated against for her lawful use of medical marijuana.

Specifically, Callaghan had applied for an internship with defendant and advised the employer that she could not pass the required pre-employment drug screen, due to her use of medical marijuana. Callaghan informed the employer that she would comply with the state requirements of refraining from using or bringing marijuana to the workplace. However, Callaghan also stated that she would continue to use medical marijuana away while off duty. Based on the fact she would not pass the pre-employment drug screen, the company declined to hire Callaghan. Callaghan filed suit, alleging that she was discriminated against for her use of medical marijuana.

In reviewing Rhode Island’s Medical Marijuana Act (the “Act”), the Superior Court stated that a card-carrying employee or applicant could not be “denied any right or privilege […] for the use of medical marijuana.” The court stated that to interpret the statute otherwise would disparately impact card-carrying medical marijuana users by eliminating them from a facially neutral pre-employment process that a non-licensed, recreational user of marijuana might bypass by simply abstaining from use of the drug long enough pass.

The Superior Court also referenced that individuals should not undertake any tasks under the influence of marijuana that would result in negligence or professional malpractice, as stated under the Act. Thus, the court emphasized that while the company could not discriminate against a medical marijuana user in their hiring practice, the employer would have the ability to discipline employees who come to work under the influence and are unable to perform their duties safely.

Callaghan therefore protects card-carrying medical marijuana users from discrimination, but also reaffirms that employers need not make accommodations for medical marijuana use in the actual workplace.

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