Rhode Island Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss Medical Marijuana Lawsuit

A judge has denied a petition to dismiss a lawsuit filed against a fabric company accused of violating a Rhode Island woman’s civil rights by denying her a paid internship based upon her use of medical marijuana.

The lawsuit was filed by the Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU on behalf of Christine Callaghan. Callaghan, a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island, was seeking a paid internship at Darlington Fabrics Corp. to help complete her Master’s Degree. According to Callaghan, Darlington Fabrics had intended to hire her for the position until she disclosed her status as a medical marijuana patient.

In lawsuits similar to Callaghan’s, the courts have typically ruled in favor of the employers. For example, in the case of Coats v. Dish Network, Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled that Dish Network was justified in firing plaintiff Brandon Coats because marijuana, medical or otherwise, was still considered federally illegal.

However, what makes Callaghan’s case different from Coat’s case is that Rhode Island’s medical marijuana laws protect patients from employer discrimination.

To wit, “A qualifying patient … shall not be … denied any right or privilege, including but not limited to, civil penalty or disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau, for the medical use of marijuana.”

The crux of Darlington’s argument to dismiss the petition was that while Rhode Island law protects medical marijuana patients from discrimination, it does not set up an avenue of legal recourse. Because the law does not specifically allow patients to sue employers, Darlington argues, Callaghan’s lawsuit should not be considered.

Darlington also tried to split hairs by stressing that there is a difference between discriminating against a medical marijuana card holder and discriminating against medical marijuana use. Superior Court Judge Richard Licht did not agree.

“It’s inconceivable to me that the General Assembly meant to say discriminate against for the use of marijuana, even though you can’t discriminate against them because they hold a card that allows them to use it,” Licht said. “I doubt there are many people who sought out a medical marijuana card that don’t use it.”

By moving forward with the lawsuit, Callaghan and the ACLU have taken major steps toward establishing a court precedence in protecting Rhode Island medical marijuana patients from employment discrimination.

Speaking with the Providence Journal, Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU, stressed that it is important to bear in mind the significance of Callaghan’s case.

“If the defendants have their way, any of the thousands of people in Rhode Island using medical marijuana for serious medical conditions would be forced to choose between taking lawfully this medication to relieve their pain or not having a job.”

At this point the in legal process, the case will go before summary judgement, although no definitive date has been set.

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