In states where marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes, many licensed patients may be under the impression that their job will be safe in the event of a drug test. Unfortunately, in many states this is simply not the case. Cristina Barbuto, a patient in Brewster, Massachusetts, learned only too late that she would be terminated from her new job due to traces of the prescribed drug being found in her system.
In 2011, Barbuto was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an ailment that makes it difficult for sufferers to work up an appetite and maintain a healthy weight. She began taking medical marijuana after other medications failed to help. Fortunately, Barbuto was able to regain her appetite by smoking a small amount of cannabis before a meal a couple of times a week. The amount she smokes is not even enough to get her high.
During an interview for a position at Advantage Sales and Marketing in September 2014, Barbuto was upfront about her medical marijuana use and was told that it would not be a problem. She was hired and worked her first day without a hitch. That evening, she was called by a human resources representative who informed her that she was fired due to marijuana showing up on her drug screening. When Barbuto asked for clarification, the representative explained, “We follow federal law, not state law.” Since marijuana is still illegal to use (for any purpose) at the federal level, employers have the legal prerogative to deny patients who use cannabis a job even if their state has made it legal for medical purposes.
Barbuto has since fought back by filing a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. She is being assisted by two law firms that specialize in marijuana issues and employment law respectively. “As long as it is not affecting that person’s ability to perform their job, then it should be protected, and that person should not suffer adverse consequences,” voiced Matthew Fogelman, one of Barbuto’s attorneys.
There is definitely a conflict that exists between the legality of medical marijuana at the state level and the requirement for national employers to abide by federal law. Barbuto’s case looks to be the first of its kind in Massachusetts, and a positive outcome could mean that patients in that state will no longer need to worry about losing their jobs because of the medication they are prescribed.
photo credit: Bostonglobe