A Delaware superior court recently rejected a former employer’s Motion to Dismiss, allowing a former employee to proceed with his claims alleging a violation of Delaware’s Medical Marijuana Act (DMMA).  In its ruling, the court held that the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) did not preempt the DMMA and that the DMMA implied a private right of action.  Chance v. Kraft Heinz Foods Co., C.A. No. K18C-01-056 NEP (Del. Super. Ct. Dec. 17, 2018).

Jeremiah Chance is a former employee of Kraft and is a registered qualifying medical marijuana patient. After an accident at the workplace, Chance was asked to submit to a drug test.  He complied with the request and tested positive for marijuana.  Despite producing his medical marijuana card to the Medical Review Officer, he was subsequently fired due to the positive drug test.

Under the DMMA, individuals with certain qualifying medical conditions are permitted to obtain limited amounts of marijuana, with a physician’s certification.  The law also specifically prohibits employers from discriminating against a person based on his or her status as a cardholder or on a registered qualifying patient’s positive drug test.

In finding that the CSA (under which marijuana is illegal) did not preempt the DMMA, the court explained that the CSA does not make it illegal for an employer to employ someone who uses marijuana. Additionally, it noted that Congress did not intend for the federal law to preempt a state law “unless there [was] a positive conflict between that provision of this subchapter and that State law so that the two cannot consistently stand together.”  Since the DMMA did not deter Congress’s objectives with the CSA and compliance with both laws was feasible, the court found that the CSA does not preempt the DMMA.

Relying, in part, on the Rhode Island case of Callaghan v. Darlington Fabrics Corp, the court also rejected Kraft’s argument that the DMMA did not provide for a private right of action.  Applying the test set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Cort v. Ash, the court found that the factors were in favor of an implied private cause of action.  Specifically (1) that Chance was a member of the “class for whose benefit the statute was enacted” and (2) no state agency or commission was responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provisions that were included in the statute.  As such, the Court concluded a private right of action must be implied with regard to the DMMA.

The court did dismiss Chance’s claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Delaware’s Persons with Disabilities Employment Protections Act because they were not timely filed.

There are now four states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware) that have specifically ruled in favor of the employee, alleging discrimination based on medical marijuana use.  With additional states regularly passing new marijuana laws, there is no doubt more challenges will be brought.  Employers should be very familiar not only with their own state’s laws regarding marijuana, but also about any cases brought under them and use that information when reviewing their policies and procedures.  For more information about marijuana laws in your state, please visit our Resource Library.

 

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