EMT Plans To Sue New York City Over His Right To Use Medical Marijuana

Even with evolving laws, using medical cannabis still poses a challenge for those working in certain professions.
EMT Plans To Sue New York City Over His Right To Use Medical Marijuana

An emergency medical technician with the New York Fire Department is ready to take the city to court over a dispute centered around his medical marijuana prescription, according to a story published Monday in the New York Daily News.

The report details the case of 26-year-old Benjamin Lerich, who “says the Fire Department has threatened his career if he insists on using pot prescribed to him to treat Crohn’s disease.”

Lerich would like to use cannabis to treat his Crohn’s disease, with the Daily News saying that he “wants to use the weed only when going to bed to help deal with the chronic gut ailment and has no intention of showing up to work high.”

“They envision this ‘Cheech & Chong’ thing in their heads. I just want to be able to sleep comfortably at night and I want to go to work,” Lerich told the Daily News. “The Fire Department is living in a bubble when it comes to medical marijuana. It’s the same as if you asked someone in the 1960s their view on medical marijuana. How are we still having this conversation?”

According to the Daily News, “Lerich filed a notice of claim last month announcing his intention to sue the city for $5 million.” His attorney, John Scola, told the newspaper that his client and others like him “shouldn’t have to suffer while safer medicinal options are available to them.”

“The city, in this instance the Fire Department, has proven unwilling to accept the changes in law related to medical marijuana,” Scola said.

In many ways, Lerich’s case is a defining issue in this era of legalization in the United States, with an increasing number of cities and states ending pot prohibition entirely even as weed remains illegal on the federal level. As the Daily News noted, any “government agency receiving federal money, such as the FDNY, must comply with the federal Drug Free Workplace Act. Workers in safety-sensitive jobs across the country generally face additional restrictions, such as regular drug tests.”

For New Yorkers like Lerich, the disconnect is especially frustrating. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2014 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law, making patients suffering from a host of qualifying conditions, like Crohn’s disease, eligible for cannabis treatment. Last year, New York City banned pre-employment drug testing for a number of jobs. 

And in January, Cuomo announced his intention “to legalize cannabis and create an equitable adult-use cannabis program in [New York state].” 

“Despite the many challenges New York has faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also created a number of opportunities to correct long standing wrongs and build New York back better than ever before,” Cuomo said in a statement at the time. “Not only will legalizing and regulating the adult-use cannabis market provide the opportunity to generate much-needed revenue, but it also allows us to directly support the individuals and communities that have been most harmed by decades of cannabis prohibition.”

On Monday, the governor said the state is “very close” to reaching an official legalization proposal.

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