Private Right of Action Confirmed Under Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act

This month, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held as a matter of first impression that medical marijuana users may maintain a private action under the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act (MMA). The case is Scranton Quincy Clinic Company, LLC, et al. v. Pamela Palmiter, Case No. 498 MDA 2020 (Pa. Super. Ct. Aug. 5, 2021).

Plaintiff Palmiter was terminated from her job for failing a drug test, despite informing the laboratory that she was prescribed medical marijuana and providing a copy of her medical marijuana certification. She subsequently sued her former employer, asserting causes of action for, inter alia, violation of the MMA and wrongful discharge. The employer filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer, arguing that the plaintiff failed to state a claim for violation of the MMA or wrongful discharge. The trial court disagreed, overruling the preliminary objections.

On appeal, the Superior Court determined that the Pennsylvania General Assembly proclaimed a public policy prohibiting employers from discriminating against medical marijuana users. The court then considered a three-part test to determine if an implied right to a private cause of action exists under the MMA, including considering: (1) whether the plaintiff is one of the class for whose “especial” benefit the statute was enacted; (2) whether there is any indication of legislative intent, explicit or implicit, to create or deny such a remedy; and (3) whether it is consistent with the underlying purposes of the legislative scheme. Upon review, the Superior Court agreed with the trial court and permitted Plaintiff Palmiter to proceed with a private cause of action under the MMA.

The court also held that the MMA may support a claim for wrongful discharge under Pennsylvania law, explaining that the MMA does not provide statutory remedies for aggrieved employees through its administrative enforcement provisions, but the MMA evinces a clear public policy against termination of employment based on medical marijuana use off company premises.

Pennsylvania employers should exercise caution and consult with legal counsel when taking adverse action against medical marijuana users in the workplace. Drug policies should also be carefully reviewed to ensure compliance with the MMA and public policy.