Medical marijuana is once more in the news after a man was denied a position as a firefighter in Bridgeport allegedly due to his status as a medical marijuana user. The plaintiff in Bulerin v. Bridgeport, Superior Court, Judicial District of Bridgeport, Docket No. FBT-CV-19-6083042-S, alleges that the City violated Connecticut’s Palliative use of Marijuana Act (“PUMA”), Conn. Gen. Stat. § 21a-408 et seq., when it rejected the plaintiff’s application for employment after he tested positive for marijuana despite being a registered medical marijuana user.
The case is in its preliminary stages after Judge Stewart denied the City’s Motion to Dismiss. The Motion to Dismiss addressed two interesting questions regarding PUMA: first, whether PUMA provides a private right of action; and second, whether a plaintiff alleging a violation of PUMA must exhaust his or her administrative remedies first, such as an appeal to the City of Bridgeport’s Civil Service Commission.
Judge Stewart first concluded that PUMA does provide for a private cause of action, meaning that individuals can file a claim directly in court alleging a violation of the statute. In so ruling, Judge Stewart relied on the federal case of Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Co., LLC, 273 F. Supp. 3d 326 (D. Conn. 2017), which we previously discussed here. In that discussion, we questioned whether Connecticut courts would be willing to adopt the federal court’s reasoning. It appears, at least with Judge Stewart’s decision, that they are.
Judge Stewart also concluded that that a plaintiff need not exhaust his or her administrative remedies prior to bringing an action under PUMA. Because the plaintiff in Bulerin was seeking injunctions, declaratory judgments, and other remedies not available at the City’s Civil Service Commission, Judge Stewart concluded that the plaintiff did not have to go to the Commission first before filing in court.
While the Bulerin decision may be limited in some ways, employers should always be cognizant of an employee’s medical marijuana registration and take care not to discriminate against applicants based solely on their status as a medical marijuana user. As courts continue to grapple with PUMA, employers are placed in the position of walking a fine line between protecting their business and violating the law. Recognizing an employee’s right under Connecticut law to use marijuana for valid medical purposes can protect an employer’s business from needless litigation.