Judge to decide if RI employers can refuse to hire medical marijuana users

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A woman who argues she was denied a paid internship because she uses medical marijuana took her case to court on Tuesday.

The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the lawsuit on behalf of Christine Callaghan back in 2014, alleging her rights were violated through unlawful discrimination.

Callaghan was studying textiles at the University of Rhode Island when she applied for a two-month internship at Westerly-based Darlington Fabrics Corp. She was turned down, and claims it was due solely to the fact that she uses medical marijuana to treat frequent migraine headaches.

Lawyers for both sides presented their arguments Tuesday before R.I. Superior Court Judge Richard Licht, and will now await his ruling in the case.

Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law states that an employer cannot refuse to hire someone solely for their status as a cardholder, but attorneys for Darlington say the issue is using marijuana, not the card.

“If somebody used marijuana before they came to work, or they went home during their lunch break, that is what employers are concerned about,” Meghan Siket, a lawyer for Darlington, said in court.

ACLU attorney Carly Iafrate countered by arguing the law protects cardholders, and thereby, users.

“This is about an employer’s own policy, which is a choice,” she said. “They are making a choice, and the choice they would like to make is to violate the state law.”

Siket argued that if an employer is treating everyone who uses marijuana in the same way, whether they have a card or not, then no discrimination is being made against cardholders.

“She’s saying they were treating everyone the same. You can’t. That’s the whole point,” Iafrate contested.

“You cannot treat everyone the same,” she continued. “She has a reason, just like when you have to make an accommodation for an employee who has a disability, you can’t treat them the same. You’re not giving every employee a ramp.”

Licht said he’ll need about four weeks to issue his ruling. He said no matter what he decides, the case is likely headed straight to the R.I. Supreme Court.