Decision on medical marijuana and preemption holds lessons for Maine employers

A U.S. district court recently held that federal law does not preempt the anti-discrimination provision in Connecticut’s medical marijuana law prohibiting employers from terminating or refusing to hire individuals based on their status as qualifying medical marijuana patients. The ruling is important for Maine employers because of the similarities between Maine’s and Connecticut’s medical marijuana statutes.

The plaintiff in the case, Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Co., LLC, had received a verbal offer of employment from a nursing facility, but was not hired after she disclosed that she was a qualifying medical marijuana patient and tested positive for marijuana on a pre-employment drug screen. Noffsinger sued in state court claiming that the facility’s refusal to hire her violated the anti-discrimination provision in Connecticut’s medical marijuana law. The facility removed the case to federal court, where it argued that Noffsinger’s complaint should be dismissed because federal law preempted Connecticut’s medical marijuana statute.

In denying the facility’s motion to dismiss, the district court found no actual conflict between Connecticut’s medical marijuana law and the federal laws identified by the facility. For example, the court found that the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) did not preempt Connecticut’s law because the CSA regulates drugs, not employment, and therefore did not conflict with the employment-related provisions in Connecticut’s law. The court also found no conflict with the ADA; although the ADA does not protect current users of illegal drugs, the court observed that Connecticut’s law did not authorize the use of drugs in the workplace, and nothing in the ADA suggested that it was intended to regulate the use of drugs outside the workplace or limit the abilities of states to do so. Finally, although the facility argued that Connecticut’s anti-discrimination provision was preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which prohibits the sale or distribution of unapproved medications, the court found that it, like the CSA, did not govern the employment relationship and therefore did not preempt Connecticut’s anti-discrimination provision.

This decision is important for Maine employers because, like Connecticut’s statute, Maine’s medical marijuana statute contains an anti-discrimination provision that prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on an individual’s status as a medical marijuana patient. The decision therefore provides a potential roadmap on how an employer’s preemption arguments might play out with respect to Maine’s medical marijuana law.