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Methuen Woman Fired For Smoking Pot Wants Lawmakers To Act

BOSTON (CBS) - Since recreational marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, it's fine to use, right? Well, a Methuen woman thought so, but then got fired from her job with Sodexo, the international food services company, after failing a drug test.

Now she wants state lawmakers to act.

"I don't want to see this happen to anybody else," said Bernadette Coughlin.

She brought that hope, and her lawyer, to the Cannabis Control Commission in Boston Tuesday. Coughlin worked for Sodexo, but one night on the job she fell.

"I broke my arm in two places, and six days later they drug tested me. I failed for marijuana and they fired me," she said.  She says she used pot at home once in a while to relax.

"For me, I just prefer to take a couple of puffs off a vape pen.  I absolutely thought that it was fine because it was legal in Massachusetts," she said.  But there are no employee protections for people who use marijuana recreationally in the state.

Bernadette Coughlin
Bernadette Coughlin was fired from Sodexo after failing a drug test. (WBZ-TV)

That's not the case with medical marijuana. Users of that are protected against being fired for testing positive for pot because of a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling.

Coughlin thinks recreational users should be protected as well. She and her attorney asked the chairman of the state's Cannabis Control Commission for help.

"The chairman was very cordial and I think sympathetic to not only our case, but the issue more broadly," said David Hadas, Coughlin's attorney.

But Chairman Steve Hoffman says the Commission does not have authority over private employers.  Instead, Hoffman said state lawmakers would have to act.

"I hope the legislature considers this.  I won't go beyond that, but I hope they consider this issue," he said.

It's a problem that can only grow as marijuana stores open throughout the state.

"If you're being told this is a legal substance, you're free to use it, and then your life gets turned upside down because you lose your job," Hadas said. "I don't think that's a very fair result."

A big complicating factor in the debate is the fact that while marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, it is still illegal at the federal level. Bernadette's former employer Sodexo tells us they are evaluating their drug testing policies in light of the changing legal landscape.

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