ADA does not extend to medical marijuana use

Wisconsin has not entered the medical marijuana fray, yet, but lawmakers here may want to take note of a recent development. A federal appeals court has declined to rule that the use of medical marijuana by severely disabled persons was protected by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The law protects disabled people in Wisconsin and throughout the nation against discrimination in employment, public accommodations, government programs and other important areas.

The disabled persons who brought the lawsuit reside in a state where the use of medical marijuana is legal with a prescription. A number of cities have recently gone on a harsh and vindictive crackdown on licensed marijuana dispensers, impeding access to the medication. The plaintiffs argued that marijuana was badly needed because other, more traditional medicines did not relieve the excruciating pain they suffer from their disabilities.

The lawsuit asserted that the attempt by the cities to close many marijuana dispensers violated the disabled peoples’ rights under a section of the ADA banning disability discrimination in the provision of public services. The court panel rejected this argument by a 2 to 1 vote. It acknowledged that the plaintiffs were gravely ill and that they were seeking “basic human dignity” as well as the right to live in comfort rather than constant pain.

The court majority indicated that its hands were tied by the prior actions of Congress, which continues to ignore the beneficial medicinal uses of marijuana and instead regards any and all marijuana use, even when sanctioned by medical practitioners and state law, as somehow “criminal” under archaic federal criminal statutes.

An attorney well-versed in disability law commented that, had the court accepted the argument as to the provision of public services, it would have been logical to also extend protection to medical marijuana use for employment law purposes. Currently, there are 17 states and the District of Columbia whose laws allow the medical use of marijuana.

Source: Workforce, “Medical Marijuana Use Not Protected by ADA: Appeals Court,” Judy Greenwald, May 23, 2012

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