CBD Lawsuit Reflects Trucker Termination for THC Tainted Drug Products

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Seyfarth Synopsis: The Western District of New York, in Horn v. Medical Marijuana, Inc., et al., issued an initial procedural order last week in a case where the plaintiff’s purchase and use of the defendant products resulted in a failed drug test that resulted in his employer terminating his employment.  Horn v. Medical Marijuana, Inc., et al. No. 15-cv-701-FPG (W.D.N.Y.)

We have noted previously that the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recently announced that drugs that include CBD (cannabidiol) with less than 0.1% of THC (tetrahydrocannabinols) are now considered Schedule V drugs provided they are approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The move marked the first time the DEA removed any form of cannabis from Schedule I and was due to the FDA’s approval of Epidiolex, a non-synthetic cannabis-derived medicine used to treat severe epilepsy.  Setting aside this very limited exception, marijuana and CBD remain illegal under federal law.  And while CBD is projected to be a $22 billion industry by 2022, many employers remain hazy about this extremely popular product and the implications it has for their employees and businesses.

We had previously blogged on The Stoned Age: What the CBD Craze Means for Employers and Their Substance Abuse Policies, CBD is Everywhere – But Where Does the FDA Stand?, CBD: Uncertainty for Restaurants and Retailers, and FDA: .1% CBD OK.  As the legalization and normalization of these products becomes more prevalent, their encroachment into the workplace becomes more and more likely, and more of an ongoing issue for employers. Now, we are seeing CBD companies being sued for allegedly promoting “pure CBD” products that might actually contain THC and, thus, creating work-related issues for applicants and employees using these products.

In Horn v. Medical Marijuana, Inc., et al., the plaintiff was a professional over-the-road hazmat commercial truck driver who worked for the same company for 10 years and drove professionally for 29 years.  Plaintiff’s employment as a professional commercial driver required that he be and remain free of all illegal and impairing substances, including marijuana.  The plaintiff allegedly used a CBD product called Dixie X.   Subsequently, the plaintiff submitted to a random urinalysis screening as required by his employer, and as required by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)’s drug and alcohol testing regulations set out in Part 40..  Plaintiff ultimately was terminated for testing positive for a “high level of THC.”

Before his termination, plaintiff asked an independent laboratory to test Dixie X CBD to determine if it did indeed contain THC.  That laboratory informed plaintiff that it could not run the tests on the Dixie X as the substance was illegal and contained THC levels well over the federal limit as per DEA regulations.

In his complaint, the plaintiff alleges that, among other claims, he had used products marked “THC free” and “non-THC,” and the defendants were “misleading the public at large through their misrepresentation of the true chemical compound make-up of products like DIXIE X.”  We will monitor this case as it progresses through the courts.

We continue to recommend that employers exercise caution when dealing with applicants and employees using medical marijuana or CBD.  As noted in our previous blogs, CBD is a recent and largely unregulated industry.  Thus, before taking any action against medical marijuana or CBD users, employers should review the laws of the states in which they operate and work with employment counsel to help navigate this complex and rapidly evolving area of the law.

Employers also may need to consider:

  • Revising their policies to define marijuana and address CBD use;
  • Training managers and supervisors on how to address situations where an employee defends a positive drug test by claiming use of CBD; and
  • Educating employees about CBD and zero tolerance policies.

Seyfarth Shaw will continue to monitor legal developments at the federal and state level.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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