Firefighter fired for testing positive for marijuana can proceed with lawsuit to get his job back

A Buffalo firefighter fired over his medical marijuana use can proceed with his legal action to get his job back, a state judge ruled Thursday, but the judge declined to immediately reinstate him as he requested.

State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto, who rejected the city’s motion to dismiss the case, said she will continue reviewing arguments from each side before making a decision on whether Scott Martin can return to his job.

Buffalo firefighter fired for testing positive for marijuana wants his job back

Firefighter Scott Martin was fired earlier this year because he tested positive for marijuana. He is a certified medical marijuana patient who uses cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and back pain.

Martin, a 12-year veteran with the Buffalo Fire Department, was fired from his job last year because he tested positive for marijuana.

The 38-year-old firefighter who served with the Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan said he is a certified medical marijuana patient who uses cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and back pain and that cannabis has greatly improved his health and well-being .

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“If anything, I think it makes me a better firefighter, because I don’t have the issues like I did,” Martin said after Thursday’s court proceeding.

To treat his back pain, Martin said doctors prescribed him medication like the opioid OxyContin and later shots of Tramadol into his lower spine.

“Imagine getting an epidural every three or four months,” he said. “I don’t get the injections anymore because of the medical marijuana. I’m not on any opiates anymore.”

The city fired him after urine samples tested positive for marijuana metabolites based on the firefighter union’s collective bargaining agreement. That agreement, however, hasn’t been updated since medical marijuana was legalized in the state in 2014, said attorney David Holland, who represents Martin.

Under the state’s Compassionate Care Act, conditions that can be treated with cannabis should be considered disabilities, so firing him should be considered workplace discrimination, Holland said.

Attorney Michael Risman, who has been retained by the city, said the city was bound by the labor agreement with the firefighters’ union.

“A firefighter who doesn’t like a policy just can’t change it,” Risman said.

Risman also told the judge that Martin does not seem medically fit to be a firefighter again, a physically demanding job requiring carrying victims out of house fires, lifting hoses and driving large fire trucks. Risman cited the pension Martin now receives from the Veterans Administration. The only way to get such a pension is to be 65 years old or be permanently disabled, Risman said.

“I don’t think anyone thinks he’s able to return to work,” Risman said.

Holland said Martin was entitled to receive the pension 12 years ago for the injuries he suffered in combat but declined to take it while he worked as a firefighter.

“I was gainfully employed. I didn’t need it,” Martin said of the pension. “I did my job perfectly fine.”

There is no complaint that Martin ever showed up to work impaired or was unfit for duty, Holland said.

Others in the Buffalo Fire Department use medical marijuana, Martin said.

When he was on the job, “I never used it at work. I did it the day before.”

And it wasn’t a secret, he said.

“My crew knew. My captain knew,” he said.

Holland said protections offered under the state’s medical marijuana law apply to Martin.

“The protections are intended for everyone,” Holland said during the court hearing. “He should be reinstated today.”

Risman contended the Compassionate Care Act did not apply to Martin as a city firefighter.

“If there’s a job it shouldn’t apply to, this is the one,” Risman said.

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