The disabled community in New Hampshire won a big victory when the state Supreme Court recently ruled on a case that links medical cannabis use with disabilities. The case centered around a PTSD sufferer whose employment was terminated when he asked his employer for an exemption to their drug testing policy.
According to multiple news reports, the NH Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff by drawing a distinction between disabilities and the therapies patients might choose to treat said disabilities. Though the distinction is subtle to some degree, it is what prompted the court to determine that the plaintiff had a legal right to use therapeutic cannabis without jeopardizing his employment status.
Asking for an Exemption
The plaintiff in the case worked for a company that, ironically, outfits vehicles to make them handicap accessible. His job was auto detailing. After failing to successfully treat his PTSD with standard therapies, the plaintiff turned to therapeutic cannabis, which is allowed by New Hampshire law. He then asked his employer for a drug testing exemption.
The company chose to exercise its right to establish its own workplace drug policies. In doing so, they refused the plaintiff’s request and terminated him due to his cannabis use. He was left with no other choice but to sue his former employer.
As for therapeutic cannabis, it is often recommended as a PTSD treatment for a number of reasons. According to the Utahmarijuana.org website, cannabis can be an effective PTSD treatment by reducing anxiety, improving mood, reducing flashbacks, and improving sleep.
The Defendant’s Case
Getting back to the New Hampshire case, the defendant maintained that New Hampshire law did not recognize the use of controlled substances to treat disabilities if such substances are being used illegally. They made the case that the plaintiff’s use of therapeutic cannabis was a disability for which the plaintiff was requesting an exemption to the company’s drug policy.
The court failed to accept this position. They ruled that the plaintiff’s disability and chosen therapy are separate entities. State and federal law requires employers to accommodate worker disabilities with whatever reasonable means are possible. In light of that, the court ruled that the defendant had to make accommodations for the plaintiff. They ruled that therapeutic cannabis use was a reasonable modification due to its legality under New Hampshire law.
What made the court’s ruling so important is their finding that state and federal law do not preclude disabled workers from treating with controlled substances. In simple terms, drugs appearing on the federal government’s Schedule I list are substances that:
- have a high potential for abuse,
- have no currently accepted medical treatment, and
- have a lack of acceptable safety, even under medical supervision.
The first point is an ongoing matter of debate. As for the second and third points, they do not apply to cannabis. A doctor who recommends cannabis as a PTSD therapy does so because they believe it is acceptable medical treatment that can be utilized safely.
Another Option for the Disabled
The NH Supreme Court’s decision does not apply beyond the borders of the Granite State. However, it is still a big win for disabled patients in New Hampshire. They now have yet another option for treating their conditions without having to worry about repercussions from employers.
For the record, this is exactly why the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created. It has done its job in protecting NH patients who use medical cannabis to treat their disabilities. Hopefully, other states will follow New Hampshire’s lead in protecting disability rights.