Massachusetts Medical Cannabis Wrongful Termination Ruling Makes History

medical marijuana and a doctor's prescription

Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court has allowed a Crohn’s disease patient to sue her former employer for wrongful termination after they fired her for using medical cannabis. The case, Cristina Barbuto vs. Advantage Sales and Marketing, LLC is the first of its kind in the United States, and could raise questions over workplace policies regarding medical cannabis, including pre-employment drug testing practices.

Cristina Barbuto is suing Advantage Sales and Marketing, who fired her from a marketing position in 2014 after she failed a drug test. Barbuto, 35, uses medical cannabis to treat pain and symptoms from Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel condition. Barbuto had worked one day on the job when she learned she’d been fired, despite informing her employer of her medical cannabis use prior to starting the job. In her recent appeal, Barbuto’s lawyers wrote: “Ms. Barbuto explained to ASM that she did not use marijuana daily and would never consume it before work or at work.”

Barbuto initially filed an anti-discrimination law complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in 2015, and told Boston Globe: “This is something that needs to change. I don’t want people to fear looking for these types of jobs and be humiliated because of this.” She later withdrew her MCAD complaint to file another complaint with the Superior Court, which dismissed it. Then she appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court.

On July 17, Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court wrote, “In 2012, Massachusetts voters approved the initiative petition entitled, ‘An Act for the humanitarian medical use of marijuana,’ St. 2012, c. 369 (medical marijuana act or act), whose stated purpose is “that there should be no punishment under state law for qualifying patients . . . for the medical use of marijuana.” . . . We conclude that the plaintiff may seek a remedy through claims of handicap discrimination. . . and therefore reverse the dismissal of the plaintiff’s discrimination claims.”

“We remand the case to the Superior Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” the court found.

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