Another First for Lil’ Rhody: Court Refuses to Pluck [Medical] Weed

By Sara Wilkinson | Rhode Island is known for firsts.

The first circus in the US was held in Newport in 1774. In May of 1776, Rhode Island was the first colony to renounce allegiance to Great Britain and declare independence. The first torpedo boat was built in Bristol in 1887. The state was home to the first open golf tournament in 1895 and the first national lawn tennis championship in 1899.

And now Lil’ Rhody has added another first to the list:  In May of this year, a Rhode Island Superior Court issued the first-of-its-kind ruling regarding a prospective employee’s use of medical marijuana.

Never one to shy away from controversy, the Rhode Island Court held (in Christine Callaghan v. Darlington Fabrics Corporation and The Moore Company) that a prospective employer may not refuse to hire a prospective employee simply because the prospective employee would fail the employer’s pre-hire drug screen due to the use of medical marijuana pursuant to the State’s Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act.

Courts in Massachusetts (Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing, LLC and Joanne Meredith Villaruz) and Connecticut (Katelin Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Company, LLC d/b/a Bride Brook Nursing & Rehabilitation Center) have since issued similar rulings (but remember – Rhode Island was first).

Prior to the Callaghan ruling, employers had taken solace in the notion that regardless of if marijuana (medical or recreational) was legal in a state, it was still illegal under Federal law so employers believed they could continue to refuse to hire candidates who failed pre-hire drug screens due to marijuana use.

With the Rhode Island ruling, and now similar opinions coming out of MA and CT, employers must revisit their pre-hire drug screen policies and ensure that they are operating in accordance with the new court rulings and the hazy world of medical marijuana in which we now find ourselves.

Learn more on how the legalization of medical marijuana impacts employers at our upcoming half-day conference “Staying Afloat in the Sea of Employment Law & HR Best Practices” in conjunction with the Employers Association of the Northeast on November 9th at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick, RI.  The Duffy & Sweeney employment law team will be presenting on this and other topics relevant to New England employers.

Contact Sara Wilkinson at 401.455.0700 or via email at  swilkinson@duffysweeney.com.