Just Say No to School Rules that Discriminate against Users of Medical Marijuana

A modern classroom with rows of desks and chairs facing large windows overlooking a green landscape, reflected sunlight brightening the interior, yet obscured by the shadow of free speech violations.

If your employer or school punishes you for legally using marijuana, you can just say, “No.” No to discrimination against you under state medical marijuana statutes.

States are increasingly edging towards the complete legalization of marijuana. Almost half have made medical marijuana legal. Some, including Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York and Massachusetts, give licensed users of medical marijuana protections against discrimination.

In Connecticut and Rhode Island, this specifically includes protection from your school. If a college or university tries to enforce its own “drug-free” rules, you can fight back.

Many schools continue to enforce drug testing in some programs or drug searches in dormitories. A “positive” test for “cannabinoids” or “marijuana metabolite” can lead to probation, elimination from a degree program, suspension, or even expulsion. These policies are out of date, but that may not keep schools from penalizing you—as a student, staff, or faculty.

Medical Marijuana Laws

The Connecticut Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (known as PUMA, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 21a-408 et seq.) is relatively new. The law says that no school can “refuse to enroll any person or discriminate against any student solely on the basis of such person’s or student’s status as a qualifying patient” for medical marijuana. Similarly, your landlord can’t evict you—which includes universities and colleges that impose rules on dormitory life. And your boss can’t fire you (or refuse to hire you) just because you use medical marijuana.

Rhode Island’s law is similar. It says, “No school, employer, or landlord may refuse to enroll, employ, or lease to, or otherwise penalize, a person solely for his or her status as a [medical marijuana] cardholder.”

New York law gives licensed medical marijuana users protection against discrimination on account of disability under the state’s disability rights law. Similarly, Massachusetts also forbids discrimination on the basis of medical marijuana use, but it counts this as discrimination under its separate, state disability laws.

If you are legally using medical marijuana, these laws protect you. In a recent case, Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Co., LLC, 338 F. Sup. 3d 78 (D. Conn. 2018) the court said, so long as you’re qualified, an institution cannot “utilize a zero-tolerance drug testing policy” in defiance of the law. If it does, you can sue to recover damages in Connecticut.

Qualifying for Medical Marijuana in Connecticut

To qualify under the Connecticut Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (known as PUMA), you must be 18 years old or older, you must be a resident of Connecticut, and you must have a diagnosis by a qualified medical professional for one of the physical or mental diagnoses approved by the state. The qualifying diagnoses and other information are listed on the website of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection.

The process of becoming qualified and getting your Connecticut medical marijuana license is reasonably quick. It can take as little as a few days to get your license number.

You Can Sue to Protect your Rights

Recently, Allen Law LLC sued to force a Connecticut university to stop discriminating against a student in a nursing program. The nursing program instituted a “zero tolerance” drug-testing regime and threatened to throw the student out of nursing school. The university rules announced that it followed federal rather than state law when it came to marijuana.

The student would have forfeited her entire tuition, which amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars. But more important even than that, her path to the valuable “RN” certification would have been blocked–a rewarding career and a lifetime of earning power worth much more.

But the Superior Court of Fairfield County at Bridgeport just said, “No.” The court issued a Temporary Restraining Order, essentially forbidding the school from keeping the student out of class for no other reason than that she had tested “positive” for medical marijuana.

Of course, a school or employer can still prohibit marijuana use during class time. Use that interferes with substantive work necessary for your degree or for a specific job can still be forbidden. But so long as students and employees abide by the law, they cannot be thrown out of a program or terminated simply for using legal medical marijuana.

You too can just say no to discriminatory policies. An experienced higher education lawyer or employment attorney can advise you how to fight back.