A medical marijuana patient is suing his former employer, claiming the company terminated his refinery job after he used prescribed cannabis while off the clock.
The claim comes as New Jersey employers are changing their drug testing policies to keep pace with the new legal weed laws. But the patient’s lawsuit argues that the medical cannabis law should have protected him even without legalization.
Jamal Campbell filed suit against Watco Companies and Watco Transloading LLC in U.S. District Court this April for violating the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act and the state Law Against Discrimination. He worked as an operator at the company’s Linden refinery from 2014 until December 2020, mostly loading cargo trains.
He hurt his back on the job in 2016, according to the lawsuit. He didn’t miss work, but sought pain relief for a bulging disc. He became a medical marijuana patient in 2018.
Campbell’s lawsuit says he never used marijuana at work or came to the job high.
In December of 2020, a Watco manager told Campbell he would have to take a random drug test, according to the claim. Campbell said he would fail due to his medical marijuana usage, but the manager said he had to comply or risk losing his job.
When he tested positive for marijuana, Watco fired him, the suit alleges.
A spokeswoman for Watco declined to comment on the lawsuit.
New Jersey’s top court ruled last year that employers cannot fire medical cannabis patients for marijuana use as long as they do not use the drug at work. The decision said the Law Against Discrimination protected the workers.
Campbell’s suit claims Watco, a transportation service company headquartered in Kansas, did not try to find a reasonable accommodation for his disability and medical marijuana use as they should have under the discrimination law. The lawsuit is in federal court because the company is based in another state.
Some states with legal and medical weed bar people in certain jobs (like commercial driving or heavy machinery) from using marijuana at all. But New Jersey’s laws do not make the distinction.
“There’s not precedent in New Jersey on what is safety-sensitive,” said Rachel Haskell, a partner at the Law Office of Christopher Q. Davis, which is representing Campbell. “We believe that both Jake Honig’s Law and the Law Against Discrimination would provide protections for people who are using medical marijuana in addition to the requirements to engage in the interactive process in providing accommodations.”
The process will only get more complicated as legal weed rolls out in New Jersey. The legalization law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy will allow any employee — unless they work for federal government or under certain federal contracts — to use weed in their free time.
But the law has drawn ire from the business community, particularly those in safety-sensitive industries. Drug tests for marijuana do not show real-time impairment and can detect it in the blood days or weeks after a person uses. Employers can still conduct drug tests, but must pair them with a determination from a Workplace Impairment Recognition Expert who witnessed impaired behavior from the worker.
A state lawmaker has already introduced a bill that would bar workers in certain high-risk positions from using cannabis at any time.