In unanimous 5-0 decision, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that medical cannabis diagnoses are covered under state anti-disability-discrimination employment laws. The court remanded Scott Paine v. Ride-Away Inc. after a lower court rules that Paine was lawfully fired for using medical cannabis.
Ride-Away hired Paine to work as a car detailer in May, 2018. Two months later, Paine’s doctor prescribed him medical cannabis to treat his post traumatic stress disorder. The company fired Paine in September 2018 after he had enrolled in the state’s medical cannabis program and then informed his employer of his new status and requested an exemption for his use of cannabis when not working.
Paine argued that his former employer violated state anti-disability discrimination laws by denying his ability to use cannabis to medicate for PTSD.
The company argued that the federal prohibition against cannabis negates any requirement to accommodate those who have been prescribed the plant.
Paine sued in New Hampshire’s superior court, but that court ruled against him, based on cannabis being illegal on the federal level.
Despite lacking a legal adult-use market, the medical cannabis market in New Hampshire has grown since it’s 2016 inception, reaching about 12,000 patients from just 2,000 at launch, according to state data.
Despite the high court ruling, Paine’s litigation journey is not over. The New Hampshire supreme court ruled that while the use of medical cannabis was a reasonable disability accommodation, the lower court will still have to determine if Paine’s firing was discriminatory.
“Indeed, as the defendant concedes, ‘if it was under a legal 5 duty to accommodate the plaintiff’s marijuana use, then the feasibility of his requested accommodation would be an issue requiring discovery and further proceedings below.’ Accordingly, we remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” wrote Chief Justice Gordan MacDonald.
Paine’s attorney, John Meyer, championed the ruling as a positive shift for the law surrounding medical cannabis.
“We’re happy the court made that decision. The issue in this case was whether or not an employer screening someone for marijuana has to consider, as a reasonable accommodation, marijuana for a disability,” said Meyer. “The legal issue is basically settled. An employee who takes medical marijuana can now ask their employer for the reasonable accommodation to take it. The issue has been decided.”
For now, while allowing medical cannabis consumption for employees with disabilities will be permitted in New Hampshire, Paine must still make the case that his particular scenario also applies.
“We agree with the plaintiff that because ‘reasonableness is intrinsically a factual determination,’ whether an accommodation is legally required ‘should be decided on a case-by-case basis depending on the specific facts of the case.’” wrote Macdonald. “Indeed, as the defendant concedes, ‘if it was under a legal duty to accommodate the plaintiff’s marijuana use, then the feasibility of his requested accommodation would be an issue requiring discovery and further proceedings below.’”