PHOENIX, A.Z., and BUFFALO, N.Y. – Courts in Arizona and New York sided with medical marijuana patients in two cases with broad implications for medicinal cannabis use by pregnant women and employees.
The Arizona Supreme Court settled one case by refusing to hear further challenges to an appellate court ruling that determined the state’s child welfare officials had acted unlawfully in 2019 when they placed Lindsay Ridgell on a state registry after her newborn tested positive for cannabis. Ridgell used cannabis under the direction of a physician to treat chronic nausea associated with morning sickness.
Data regarding the impact of prenatal cannabis exposure is inconsistent. One study published in the American Journal of Perinatology found “Marijuana use was not associated with total preterm birth in this cohort, suggesting that among women already at high risk of preterm birth, marijuana does not increase risk further.” Another study published in Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology found “maternal marijuana use and cigarette smoking during pregnancy were independently associated with shorter gestational age.” Authors from the second study noted “Future studies need to confirm [these] findings before conclusions can be made regarding the risks of marijuana use during a preterm birth.” Separate studies published in the Medical Journal of Australia and Nature: Journal of Perinatology offered mixed results, and a Columbia University review of 40 longitudinal studies published in Frontiers in Psychology “suggests prenatal cannabis exposure does not lead to cognitive impairments.”
In April 2022, justices at the Arizona Court of Appeals unanimously ruled prenatal exposure did not constitute neglect because Ridgell was qualified to use cannabis under state law. The Appellate Court’s ruling overturned the state Department of Child Safety’s director’s decision and a ruling by a trial court judge.
According to the Appellate Court, “The evidence shows that [the plaintiff] was certified under AMMA [the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] to use marijuana medically to treat chronic nausea. The doctor who certified [the plaintiff’s] eligibility for using medical marijuana knew that she was pregnant. Because the use of marijuana under AMMA ‘must be considered the equivalent of the use of any other medication under the direction of a physician,’ A.R.S. § 36–2813(C), the exposure of [the plaintiff’s] infant to marijuana resulted from medical treatment and did not constitute neglect under A.R.S. § 8–201(25)(c).”
By refusing to hear further challenges to the April ruling, the Arizona Supreme Court settled the issue for Ridgell and other patients in the state.
In Buffalo, New York, firefighter Scott Martin returned to work after settling a wrongful termination lawsuit against the City of Buffalo and the fire department. Martin, a military veteran who served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, became a medical patient in 2018 to help with post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, and chronic back pain.
The firefighter was suspended from work without pay in December 2020 and terminated in February 2021, in a violation of a collective bargaining agreement, after testing positive for cannabis during a random workplace test. He had been working for the Buffalo Fire Department since 2009.
“I lost my dream job, and the way it happened was horrible,” said Martin.
He filed a grievance against his union, a civil lawsuit, and an appeal, effectively asking the courts to decide whether his rights under New York’s Compassionate Care Act supersede those bargained for collectively in 2011.
Martin told WIVB4 News that he informed the individual conducting the drug test of his certified medical patient status, but “they didn’t know what to do” with that information.
As the act states, “Certified patients, designated caregivers, practitioners, registered organizations, and the employees of registered organizations shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or 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, solely for the certified medical use or manufacture of marihuana, or for any other action or conduct in accordance with this title.”
In September, Supreme Court Justice Catherine N. Panepinto rejected the city’s request to dismiss Martin’s case. The court found Martin was wrongfully terminated and required the city to reinstate him with the same seniority, rank, and salary he had earned before his suspension. The city also agreed to pay Martin $242,000 for lost wages.
“I am glad that I can finally go back to the work I love—protecting the safety of the citizens of the City of Buffalo,” he said.
“The rights of medical cannabis patients in the workplace is a cutting-edge legal issue,” said David Holland, Martin’s attorney. “The parties’ agreement to Martin’s reinstatement and the recognition of his rights under the Compassionate Care Act is a reasonable resolution to this dispute. At the national level, I expect to see parties to collective bargaining agreements come to similar accommodations and resolutions.”