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Employers Win Another Victory Over Medical Marijuana In New Mexico

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Not long after the ball dropped in Times Square and 2015 became 2016, a federal court in New Mexico issued a ruling on medical marijuana usage in favor of employers, joining multiple others states in the ongoing battle against allowing such usage to enter the workplace.

On January 7, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico dismissed a lawsuit brought by an employee terminated after testing positive for marijuana, finding that state law does not require employers to accommodate medical marijuana use (Garcia v. Tractor Supply Company.)

The plaintiff, Rojerio Garcia, suffers from HIV/AIDS and was using medical marijuana under New Mexico’s Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act (“CUA”) to help to treat his condition. Mr. Garcia applied for and was hired at Tractor Supply and took a drug test, in which he tested positive for cannabis metabolites. CUA makes medical marijuana usage legal in the state. Tractor Supply promptly fired Garcia, and he brought suit against the company alleging his termination violated New Mexico’s Human Rights statute and that Tractor Supply was required to accommodate his medical marijuana usage.

The District Court judge disagreed and dismissed his claim.

The takeaways from this recent decision are several:

  1. It’s good news for employers, continuing a string of successful cases in which companies have won actions against employee drug usage in the workplace (including Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Montana.) Employers in all of these states do not have to accommodate the medical marijuana use of applicants or workers. All these “humane” statutes do is prohibit criminal prosecution of the users, and marijuana still remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act;
  2. However, employers should check with their individual states before taking any action against employees as several jurisdictions, including Connecticut, Delaware and Arizona, have affirmative requirements mandating that employers accommodate medical marijuana cardholders; and
  3. In those states that do protect employers, you should make sure you are consistent in applying drug tests and enforcing your policies. Letting some applicants slide or failing to terminate an employee who tests positive (when others have been so disciplined) can set your company up for a discrimination or wrongful termination lawsuit.
Hilary Atkins

Posted In: Legal, Management

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