Does a worker’s medical marijuana license trump a company’s drug policy? A federal court has issued a decision.
Rojerio Garcia’s doctors recommended his treatment for HIV/AIDS include use of medical marijuana. The New Mexico Department of Health issued him a patient identification card allowing him to use medical weed.
Garcia applied for the job of Team Leader at Tractor Supply Company. During his initial interview, Garcia advised the hiring manager of his diagnosis and participation in the medical cannabis program. Garcia was hired and on Aug. 8, 2014, reported to a testing facility for a drug screen.
The results: Garcia tested positive for cannabis metabolites. On Aug. 20, 2014, Tractor Supply’s hiring manager discharged Garcia on the basis of the positive drug test.
Garcia filed suit alleging that Tractor Supply terminated him based on his serious medical condition and his doctors’ recommendation to use medical pot. Tractor Supply filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
The U.S. District Court for the district of New Mexico heard the case.
Accommodate medical pot use?
Some states (Connecticut, Delaware) have included provisions in their medical marijuana laws requiring employers to accommodate medical pot cardholders. New Mexico isn’t one of them, so Garcia couldn’t rely on the state’s Compassionate Use Act (CUA) alone to make his case.
Instead, he argued that the CUA makes medical marijuana an accommodation promoted by the public policy of New Mexico, therefore medical marijuana is an accommodation that must be provided by the employer under the state’s Human Rights Act (HRA).
The federal court noted Garcia wasn’t fired because of his serious medical condition, and using marijuana wasn’t a manifestation of HIV/AIDS.
The court said Garcia’s strongest argument centered on several decisions by New Mexico courts that the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act authorizes reimbursement for medical pot.
But the court found Tractor Supply’s argument to be more persuasive:
“There is a fundamental difference between (i) requiring an insurance carrier to reimburse medical treatments that have been approved by a physician in a regulated system, such as medical marijuana, and (ii) requiring that a national employer permit and accommodate an individual’s marijuana use that is illegal under federal law.”
The court found the combination of the CUA and HRA didn’t require Tractor Supply to accommodate Garcia’s medical marijuana use. “To affirmatively require Tractor Supply to accommodate Mr. Garcia’s illegal drug use would mandate Tractor Supply to permit the very conduct the CSA (federal Controlled Substances Act) proscribes.”
The federal court dismissed Garcia’s lawsuit against Tractor Supply. The company could fire him for drug use that was permitted under state law but forbidden under federal law.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments.
(Rojerio Garcia v. Tractor Supply Company, U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, No. CV 15-00735, 1/7/16)