New Jersey Law Does Not Protect Employees Who Use Medical Marijuana from Employer Drug Testing Requirements

On August 10, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed an employee’s claims in Cotto v. Ardagh Glass Packing, Inc., holding that neither the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (“NJCUMMA”) nor the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) required the employer to waive its drug testing requirements for an employee who was prescribed medical marijuana.

Plaintiff Daniel Cotto Jr. was employed as a forklift operator for Defendant Ardagh Glass Packing, Inc. Cotto was injured on the job when he hit his head on a forklift, and Ardagh Glass required him to pass a drug test before he could return to work. Cotto told Ardagh Glass that he could not pass the drug test, due to the fact that he was taking prescription medications including medical marijuana. Ardagh Glass told Cotto that he must test negative for marijuana to continue working there. Cotto was put on indefinite suspension because he could not pass the drug test.

Cotto sued Ardagh Glass for disability discrimination under the NJCUMMA and NJLAD, claiming that because the NJCUMMA decriminalized medical marijuana, the NJLAD required his employer to give him the reasonable accommodation of waiving its requirement that he pass a drug test for marijuana. The court dismissed Cotto’s claim, holding that New Jersey law does not require private employers to waive drug tests for medical marijuana.

The court reasoned that medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and while the NJCUMMA was enacted to protect patients using medical marijuana from prosecution, it does not include any protections for employees in the workplace. The NJCUMMA states explicitly that “nothing in this act shall be construed to require . . . an employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.”

In its analysis regarding protections under the NJLAD, the court reasoned that courts in other states have found that the decriminalization of medical marijuana does not in itself create protections for employees against adverse employment actions based on marijuana use. The court also reasoned that, as was decided regarding a similar California law, the New Jersey judiciary would conclude that the NJLAD does not require employers to accommodate the use of drugs still illegal under federal law, such as medical marijuana, with a drug test waiver. Thus, the LAD does not require employers to accommodate employees by waiving drug testing requirements for medical marijuana.

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