Is It Discrimination to Refuse to Hire a Medical Marijuana Patient?

When Christine Callaghan, a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island working toward her master’s degree in textiles, applied for a summer internship at Darlington Fabrics Corp., she had every indication she would be accepted for the position.

Yet when she met with Darlington Fabrics’ human resources department to work out the details of her paid, for-credit internship, she revealed that she legally takes medical marijuana to help treat her “frequent, debilitating” migraine headaches. She said she wouldn’t bring the drug to work with her or use it before working.

A few days later, Callaghan got a call from Darlington Fabrics, telling her “they could not employ Callaghan because of her status as a medical marijuana patient.”

Now Callaghan is suing Darlington Fabrics and its parent, the Moore Company, for discrimination, and is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island, ABC News reports.

Callaghan’s lawsuit has sparked an important debate in states that allow legal use of marijuana for medical reasons. Should an employer be allowed to refuse to hire someone — or even fire them — because they use marijuana to treat their health problems?

Darlington Fabrics seems to think so. Timothy Cavazza, one of Darlington Fabrics’ attorneys, told ABC News that the company’s actions fall within state and federal law.

Yet if the courts side with Darlington Fabrics, a troubling precedent could be set, one that discriminates against people with health conditions they can’t control. Medical marijuana contains THC and CBD, two cannabinoids that help alleviate the negative effects of chemotherapy on cancer patients. Medical marijuana is also used to treat anxiety, muscle spasms and pain.

Having a court dismiss Callaghan’s lawsuit would also contradict popular opinion on medical marijuana use. The most recent polls show that approximately 83% of Americans support giving doctors the ability to prescribe marijuana to patients who need it.

At press time, Darlington Fabrics hasn’t yet been served with Callaghan’s lawsuit — so it may be some time before a decision is even made.

“People with disabilities simply cannot be denied equal employment opportunities on the basis of the type of medication required to treat their particular condition,” said Carly Iafrate, the ACLU attorney who filed Callaghan’s lawsuit for her.

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