Until yesterday, the interplay between New Jersey’s Compassionate Use Act and the Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) was unclear. In a landmark decision, Justin Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., the Supreme Court of New Jersey granted protected status to medical marijuana patients under the LAD. Affirming the substantive decision of the Appellate Division, but with an expanded rationale, the Supreme Court shed some much needed light on the rights of New Jersey residents living and working with medical marijuana prescriptions.
In Wild, the Plaintiff, after being diagnosed with cancer, was prescribed marijuana as part of his medical treatment. Later, and in the course and scope of his employment, the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Plaintiff disclosed his medical marijuana prescription. He was later terminated for failing to disclose the medication, which might adversely affect his ability to perform his job duties. Plaintiff claimed a violation of the LAD. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted by the trial court. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court, and found that the Compassionate Use Act “…intended to cause no impact on existing employment rights.”
In Wild, Plaintiff’s use of medical marijuana was outside of the workplace and he was found to not be under the influence of marijuana at the time of the alleged accident. Wild’s disability, which was the basis for his medical marijuana prescription, is a protected disability under the LAD. The Court indicated that the provisions of the Compassionate Use Act will conflict with the LAD when a claim for discrimination involves an employer’s refusal to permit in-workplace use of medical marijuana, or the use violates an employer’s prohibition of the operation or control of vehicles or heavy machinery while under the influence. In those instances, there is not a violation of the LAD if the employer takes an adverse employment action.
The Court’s decision struck the perfect balance between protecting the rights of medical marijuana patients from discrimination while protecting the public safety. This is precisely the balance that we here at C&W have been vocal in advocating on behalf of the cannabis industry and legalization efforts in the state. And, as New Jersey residents consider November’s ballot referendum on the legalization of adult use, decisions such as this help to reduce any misperceived stigma that may still be attached to cannabis, which is a step in the right direction.