Worker who says she was fired for legal pot use files suit

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BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts woman who says she was fired from work for using marijuana legally obtained to treat Crohn's Disease has sued her former employer.

Cristina Barbuto said in court papers that she told the Irvine, California-based Advantage Sales and Marketing before she was hired that she had obtained written certification from her doctor to purchase marijuana under Massachusetts' 2012 voter-approved law. Barbuto said the drug helps counter the effects of the disease and helps her gain and maintain weight.

Her lawsuit, filed this week in Suffolk Superior Court, said she never consumed marijuana before work or while working, and typically uses it two or three times a week at home in small quantities and does not feel intoxicated when she does.

The lawsuit said she warned the company ahead of time that she would test positive for marijuana, and was told by company officials that her use of it wouldn't be a problem. But after her first day on the job last year when she tested positive for marijuana in a drug test, she was fired, the suit said.

A call to the company's Boston office was not immediately returned.

Marijuana is now legal in 23 states for medical purposes, but possession and use of marijuana is still a violation of federal law.

Similar workplace lawsuits have been filed in other states where marijuana is legal for medicinal or recreational use. But Barbuto's lawyers said her lawsuit was the first of its kind in Massachusetts.

The complaint argues that Barbuto's use of marijuana should be protected. Her lawyers point to a portion of the 2012 law that says that "any person meeting the requirements under this law shall not be penalized under Massachusetts law in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, for such actions."

By firing Barbuto, the company was effectively discriminating against her because of her medical condition — and her use of marijuana to help maintain her appetite — the lawsuit added.

Barbuto said in the lawsuit that she was recruited by the company. She is seeking damages for lost wages, lost benefits, attorney fees, and emotional distress. She also wants to be reinstated in her job.

The 2012 law legalized the licensing of up to 35 medical marijuana dispensaries statewide to sell marijuana to patients suffering from conditions including cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. The licensing process has been sluggish and only one dispensary is up and running.

The lawsuit comes as marijuana activists are hoping to put one or more questions on next year's ballot that would fully legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Massachusetts voters have previously approved a ballot question that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the drug.

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