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Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Co. LLC

United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

August 8, 2017, Decided; August 8, 2017, Filed

No. 3:16-cv-01938 (JAM)

Opinion

 [*330]  RULING ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

Connecticut is one of a growing number of States to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Connecticut likewise bars employers from firing or refusing to hire an employee who uses medical marijuana in compliance with the requirements of Connecticut law. By contrast, federal law categorically prohibits the use of marijuana even for medical purposes.

This lawsuit calls upon me to decide if federal law preempts Connecticut law. In particular, I must decide if federal law precludes enforcement of a Connecticut law that prohibits employers from firing or refusing to hire someone who uses marijuana for medicinal purposes. I conclude that the answer to that question [**2]  is "no" and that a plaintiff who uses marijuana for medicinal purposes in compliance with Connecticut law may maintain a cause of action against an employer who refuses to employ her for this reason. Accordingly, I will largely deny defendant's motion to dismiss this lawsuit.

Background

For the last two decades, state legislatures across the United States have been passing laws to permit and regulate the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. See National Conference Of State Legislatures, State Medical Marijuana Laws (July 7, 2017). Connecticut is one of 29 States that have "comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs," and an additional 16 States have more limited programs allowing for the use of "low THC, high cannabidiol" products for particular medical reasons. Ibid.

The range of state statutes provide different rights and remedies to medical marijuana users. While all protect qualified users from state criminal prosecution, many also include broader protections "stating that medical marijuana patients are not to be subject to 'penalty,' 'sanction,' or may not be 'denied any right or privilege.'" Elizabeth Rodd, Light, Smoke, and Fire: How State Law Can Provide [*331]   [**3]  Medical Marijuana Users Protection from Workplace Discrimination, 55 B.C. L. Rev. 1759, 1768 (2014). Several States—including Connecticut—provide explicit protection against employment discrimination on the basis of the medicinal use of marijuana in compliance with state law. Ibid.1

Notwithstanding the proliferation of state marijuana-use statutes, federal law stands to the contrary. The federal Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, meaning that Congress has decided that "marijuana has no medicinal value." Kathleen Harvey, Protecting Medical Marijuana Users in the Workplace, 66 Case W. Res. L. Rev. 209, 211 (2015). Given the proliferation of state medical marijuana laws, courts around the country are now confronted with the question of how these permissive state laws may reconcile—if at all—with federal law.

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273 F. Supp. 3d 326 *; 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124960 **; 33 Am. Disabilities Cas. (BNA) 997; 17 Accom. Disabilities Dec. (CCH) P17-188; 2017 WL 3401260

KATELIN NOFFSINGER, Plaintiff, v. SSC NIANTIC OPERATING COMPANY LLC, d/b/a BRIDE BROOK NURSING & REHABILITATION CENTER, Defendant.

Subsequent History: Summary judgment granted by, in part, Summary judgment denied by, in part Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Co., LLC, 338 F. Supp. 3d 78, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150453 (D. Conn., Sept. 5, 2018)

CORE TERMS

medical marijuana, marijuana, state law, preempt, preemption, private right of action, employees, obstacle, federal law, drugs, users, courts, negligent infliction of emotional distress, job offer, private cause of action, drug testing, illegal use, anti-discrimination, prohibits, workplace, patients, cases, motion to dismiss, public policy, drug use, protections, compliance, qualifying, medicinal, purposes

Civil Procedure, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Failure to State Claim, Constitutional Law, Supremacy Clause, Federal Preemption, Supreme Law of the Land, Criminal Law & Procedure, Criminal Offenses, Controlled Substances, Delivery, Distribution & Sale, Labor & Employment Law, Employee Privacy, Alcohol & Drug Testing, Employment Relationships, Civil Rights Law, Protection of Disabled Persons, Americans With Disabilities Act, Scope, Pleadings, Complaints, Requirements for Complaint, Equal Protection, Nature & Scope of Protection, Exceptions, Tort Exceptions, Public Policy Violations, Torts, Types of Negligence Actions, Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, Elements, Responses, Motions to Dismiss