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Court Ruling Adds Confusion to Handling Medical Marijuana in the Workplace


Just when human resources professionals were starting to get a feel for where courts stand regarding medical marijuana in the workplace, a New Jersey court handed down a surpising ruling on the subject.

In Cotto v. Ardagh Glass Packing (case), Daniel Cotto sued his former company, Ardagh Glass, over his refusal to take a mandatory drug test that was part of company policy. Initially, Cotto had been asked to take the drug test because he "hit his head on a forklift." Cotto informed the company he would not be able to pass the test because he uses doctor-prescribed medical marijuana to alleviate neck and back pain from a previous injury.

Ardagh refused to waive the drug test and told Cotto he could not continue to work for the company until he had a drug test that was negative for marijuana. Cotto was placed on indefinite suspension. In response, Cotto filed a lawsuit claiming Ardagh's refusal was a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA), which required the company to provide an accommodation that excused him from the mandatory drug test.

A court, however, disagreed. In its ruling, the judge found that CUMMA does not require the glass company to waive the drug testing requirements, and found that Cotto failed to show that he could perform the "essential functions" of the job he seeks to perform.

'Remains illegal under federal law'

The court also cited the Schedule One status of marijuana in its ruling by stating, "[n]o state law could completely legalize marijuana for medical purposes because the drug remains illegal under federal law even for medical users."

It added: "[a]lthough no court has expressly ruled on this question, New Jersey courts have generally found employment drug testing to be unobjectionable in the context of private employment[...]. And as we have seen, nothing in CUMMA or LAD disturbs this regime."

Posted In: Drugs/Alcohol, Abuse and Testing; Discrimination, Illegal

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