ADA Blog


ADA Blog #112

When a state & federal laws contain conflicting information, which do you comply with? Generally, the law that provides the greater protection to the individual is the one to follow. However, when employers are faced with the use of medical marijuana in the workplace, does this fall under the rubric of “reasonable accommodation?”

Anyone who is currently using drugs illegally is not protected by the ADA and may be denied employment or fired on the basis of such use. However, the ADA does not exclude:

  • persons who have successfully completed or are currently in a rehabilitation program and are no longer illegally using drugs, and
  • persons erroneously regarded as engaging in the illegal use of drugs.

The Rehabilitation Act (which mirrors the ADA) specifies that the term “drug” means a controlled substance, as defined in schedules I through V of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812). The term “illegal use of drugs” means...

...the use of drugs, the possession or distribution of which is unlawful under the Controlled Substances Act [21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.]. Such term does not include the use of a drug taken under supervision by a licensed health care professional, or other uses authorized by the Controlled Substances Act [21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.] or other provisions of Federal law.

Californians embraced marijuana as an effective treatment for individuals who face debilitating pain. Congress has made clear; however, that the ADA defines 'illegal drug use' by reference to federal, rather than state, law, and federal law does not authorize the use of medical marijuana use.

Court rulings involving medical marijuana have generally held that employers are under no obligation to accommodate medical marijuana users, despite the state laws that permit doctors to prescribe it.

I will continue to update you on how this interesting situation plays out over time. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this issue, especially if you disagree with the ruling.


This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.