Buffalo Firefighter Claims Termination Violates Medical Marijuana Law

A Buffalo firefighter who was terminated after testing positive for marijuana a second time has filed suit claiming the city violated New York’s Compassionate Care Act. Scott Martin, a 12-year veteran of the department, was terminated on February 23, 2021 following a random drug test on February 5, 2021.

Martin tested positive for a “marijuana metabolite” on December 15, 2020 prompting his initial suspension. According to the complaint, he disclosed to “the individual administering the test that he was a certified medical marijuana patient under the Compassionate Care Act and that he would test positive for marijuana which he uses to treat qualifying medical conditions.”

Nevertheless, Martin was suspended and required to attend mandatory counseling in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement between IAFF Local 282 and the city. Martin complied with the counseling mandate, but was again summoned for a second test on February 5. He again disclosed his status under the Compassionate Care Act, but was terminated when the test was positive.

Local 282 grieved Martin’s termination, but unfortunately the drug-testing language in the CBA pre-dates the enactment of New York’s Compassionate Care Act. As a result, the city complied with the terms of the CBA, although the CBA violates state law. Rather than waiting for the grievance to play out, Martin opted to sue contending that the termination was illegal under the Compassionate Care Act. The act states:

  • Certified Patients…shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, including but not limited to civil penalty or disciplinary action by a business or occupation or professional licensing board or bureau, solely for the certified medical use or manufacture of marijuana, or for any other action or conduct in accordance with this title.
  • Being a certified patient shall be deemed to be having a “disability” under Article fifteen of the executive law (human rights law), section forty-c of the civil rights law.
  • This subdivision shall not bar the enforcement of a policy prohibiting an employee from performing his or her employment duties while impaired by a controlled substance. This subdivision shall not require any person or entity to do any act that would put the person or entity in violation of federal law or cause it to lose a federal contract or funding.

The lawsuit contends that Martin was “suspended and discharged solely due to his use of medical marijuana which is unlawful discrimination against him in the form of an adverse employment action taken due directly to his disability.”

Here is a copy of the complaint:

Here is a copy of the Compassionate Care Act.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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