In the summer of 2018, Amazon allegedly administered a cheek swab drug test to a top-performing warehouse worker in Edison, New Jersey. The worker used medical cannabis to treat panic attacks, and the test results came back positive.
Medical cannabis is legal in the state of New Jersey. But even after providing the company with a doctor’s note, the worker was fired.
Things took a turn for the worse when the worker applied to a position at a Whole Foods grocery store. Not only had he been fired from his warehouse job, but he also alleges he was blacklisted from working at the grocery chain and all businesses owned by Amazon.
The worker, who was prescribed medical cannabis to ease an anxiety disorder, is now suing Amazon in federal court for disability and workplace discrimination. In the lawsuit, the worker is identified as "DPC," their initials.
“Amazon is such a big and powerful corporation. I felt like it was following me,” DPC. told Motherboard. “Between Amazon and Whole Foods, I was looking at a couple hundred thousand positions that I wasn’t eligible to apply for. It was extremely defeating.”
“As a result of [Amazon’s] continuing and unlawful conduct, plaintiff suffered a protracted period of unemployment, emotional distress, and has been permanently damaged in his economic potential,” his complaint states.
The lawsuit is the latest legal battle between employers and employees in determining how far medical cannabis laws extend into the workplace. Amazon told Motherboard it would not comment on the case or provide more information on its medical cannabis policy in states where it’s legal. But workers in online forums say Amazon requires all new employees to take an oral drug test upon their hiring, and at least once a year after that as a condition of their employment.
In July, New Jersey’s governor signed into law the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act, which prohibits employers from firing workers on the basis of their status as medical cannabis patients. The use of medical cannabis “shall not constitute the use of an illicit substance,” according to state law.
“It shall be unlawful to take any adverse employment action against an employee who is a registered qualifying patient based solely on the employee’s status as a registrant with the commission,” the law says. However, the law does not specify whether patients can use cannabis on the job.
New Jersey joins 13 other states, including New York, Arizona, and Illinois, whose medical cannabis laws provide employment protections.
“It’s important to know that this was not a workplace accident, nor was my client impaired in the workplace,” Dana Venneman, the attorney on the case told Motherboard. “We want to bring justice to DPC and to prevent employers, like Amazon, from unlawfully injecting themselves into patient-doctor decisions on health care.”
At the time of his drug test, DPC allegedly offered to show Amazon his medical cannabis card and had been informed that he would be able to do so later. But DPC claims that a month after taking the drug test—his first after 10 months on the job—managers pulled him into an office and fired him. When he produced a copy of his medical cannabis card, his manager said they would investigate further and suspended him, the lawsuit alleges. Days later, that manager allegedly confirmed DPC would be fired for “failing to inform” Amazon about his condition prior to the test.
“I feel like Amazon didn’t consider how medical marijuana helps me,” DPC said. “Since I started talking it my anxiety and panic attacks have significantly decreased. But Amazon didn’t even look at my medical marijuana paperwork from my doctor. Their first instinct was to fire me.”
In the aftermath of his firing from Amazon, DPC said that it’s been difficult to find another job that pays as well. In fact, he’s still searching for work.
“I’m applying for jobs and it does feel like I’m not being considered because of my termination from Amazon,” he told Motherboard. “Amazon can be playing a much more active role in how they treat employees. Medical marijuana made me a better person and worker. I would like to see the stigma erased.”