United States: Rhode Island Superior Court Rules On Job Applicant's Medical Marijuana Use

Last Updated: June 22 2017
Article by Eric B. Mack and Mary Kate Sexton

In a case of first impression in the state, the Rhode Island Superior Court recently ruled an employer is prohibited from refusing to hire a prospective employee because the employee would potentially fail a pre-employment drug test due to the employee's use of medical marijuana. In Callaghan v. Darlington Fabrics and the Moore Company, the court held the state's Hawkins-Slater Medical Marijuana Act (the "Medical Marijuana Act"), which prohibits discrimination against medical marijuana users, also protects the cardholder's actual use of marijuana. Even though using marijuana is still illegal under federal law, the court held that employers that refuse to hire card-carrying prospective employees due to their use of medical marijuana may be subject to liability under the Medical Marijuana Act.


In June 2014, the plaintiff, then a master's student at the University of Rhode Island, sought an internship as a requirement of the program. The plaintiff applied for the position and, on June 30, 2014, met with the defendant's human resources coordinator. At this meeting, the plaintiff signed the defendant's Fitness for Duty Statement, acknowledging that it required applicants to pass a pre-employment drug test prior to being hired. During this meeting, the plaintiff also disclosed that she held a medical marijuana card, authorized by the Medical Marijuana Act.

On the morning of July 2, 2014, the HR coordinator called the plaintiff about the position. During the conversation, the HR coordinator asked the plaintiff if she was currently using medical marijuana, to which the plaintiff responded in the affirmative. The plaintiff informed the coordinator that a pre-employment drug screening would be positive for marijuana, but she would not use or possess marijuana in the workplace. Nevertheless, the HR coordinator informed the plaintiff that a positive drug test would "prevent the Company from hiring her." Later that afternoon, the HR coordinator called the plaintiff to inform her that because she could not pass the pre-employment drug test, the defendant was unable to offer her the internship.

On November 12, 2014, the plaintiff filed a three-count complaint against the defendant. Count I sought a declaratory judgment that the failure to hire a prospective employee based on his or her status as a medical marijuana card holder and user is a violation of the Medical Marijuana Act. Count II alleged the defendant violated the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act (the "RICRA"). Count III alleged employment discrimination in violation of the Medical Marijuana Act.

The Court's Hawkins-Slater Act Analysis

After a lengthy analysis, which ultimately concluded the Medical Marijuana Act contained an implied private right of action, the Superior Court turned to the question of whether the defendant violated the Medical Marijuana Act when it refused to hire the plaintiff due to her use of medical marijuana. Section 21-28.6-4(d) of the Medical Marijuana Act prohibits employers from refusing to employ "a person solely for his or her status as a cardholder." The defendant argued that it did not refuse to hire the plaintiff because of her status as a medical marijuana cardholder, but because of her admitted inability to pass the mandatory pre-employment drug test. The defendant further argued that the Medical Marijuana Act should not be interpreted to require employers to accommodate medical marijuana use, citing that their manufacturing facility contains dangerous equipment and employees under the influence of marijuana may jeopardize workplace safety.

The Superior Court rejected both arguments. The court read §21-28.6-4(d) in conjunction with §21-28.6-4(a), which provides, "[a] qualifying patient cardholder who has in his or her possession a registry identification card shall not be . . . denied any right or privilege . . . for the medical use of marijuana." By reading these two sections of the Medical Marijuana Act together, the court "glean[ed] that the Hawkins-Slater Act provides that employers cannot refuse to employ a person for his or her status as a cardholder, and that that right may not be denied for the medical use of marijuana." According to the court, "[t]he statutory scheme is premised on the idea that 'State law should make a distinction between the medical and nonmedical use of marijuana.'" The court emphasized the fact that if the statute was not interpreted in this broad manner, then medical marijuana users would not be protected because they could be screened out by a facially neutral drug test, which a nonmedical user could pass by refraining from smoking just long enough to pass.

The defendant's workplace safety argument also failed, as the court pointed to the language in the statute that explicitly states the Medical Marijuana Act shall not permit "[a]ny person to undertake any task under the influence of marijuana, when doing so would constitute negligence or professional malpractice." R.I. Gen. Laws § 21-28.6-7(a)(1). Thus, according to the court, "[i]f an employee came to work under the influence, and unable to perform his or her duties in a competent manner, the employer would thus not have to tolerate such behavior." The court granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and concluded that the defendant violated the Medical Marijuana Act by denying the plaintiff an employment opportunity based on the fact that she would not be able to pass a drug screening.

No Federal Preemption

The court concluded the Medical Marijuana Act was not preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act because the Medical Marijuana Act did not require employers to accommodate the use of medical marijuana in the workplace, and the two statutes occupied two completely different areas of the law. While the Controlled Substances Act seeks to outlaw the "illegal importation, manufacture, distribution, and possession and improper use of controlled substances," the Medical Marijuana Act is intended to function in the realm of anti-discrimination and employment law. Since it was not impossible to comply with both the federal and state law, and since the Medical Marijuana Act did not frustrate the purpose of the Controlled Substances Act, the court rejected the defendant's federal preemption argument.

The Court's Analysis under RICRA

The court also ruled that the plaintiff was disabled under the RICRA. The RICRA prohibits, inter alia, discrimination based on disability in the making and enforcement of contracts, and has been interpreted to provide protections against all forms of employment discrimination. The defendant argued that active drug use is not a disability under RICRA, and thus its refusal to hire the plaintiff was not discriminatory. The court rejected this contention, and made clear that in order to be a medical marijuana cardholder under the Medical Marijuana Act, one must suffer from a "debilitating medical condition." To qualify as a "debilitating medical condition" under the Act, the condition must necessarily "substantially limit [] one or more . . . major life activities." Examples in the Medical Marijuana Act itself include severe ailments, such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and related symptoms, such as chronic pain and seizures. Thus, the court concluded that if a person qualifies for a medical marijuana card, it necessarily follows that he or she has a debilitating medical condition that qualifies them as disabled under the RICRA.


Callaghan is the first case in Rhode Island to conclude that the Medical Marijuana Act protects disabled individuals from discrimination not only because of their status as a medical marijuana cardholder, but also because of their actual use of medical marijuana. While the case does not require employers in the state to make accommodations for medical marijuana use in the workplace, it may nonetheless have a significant impact on employers in the hiring process. More states are making the medical use of marijuana and/or the general use of marijuana legal. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law and there may be more aggressive enforcement against marijuana use under the Trump administration. These countervailing forces will create a difficult landscape for employers to navigate so stay tuned for further developments.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions