Scott Martin at his home in West Seneca, New York in May 2021. Photo Credit: The Buffalo News.
Earlier last year, The Buffalo Fire Department terminated Scott Martin after testing positive for cannabis following a random drug test. A 12-year veteran of the department, Martin lost his dream job as an emergency medical technician (EMT) specialist.
The department fired Martin despite Martin being a registered medical cannabis patient in New York State. Determined to return, Martin filed a lawsuit against the City of Buffalo on May 5th, 2021 to reinstate his position.
Scott Martin: Firefighter and Veteran
Martin, who has a lineage of veterans, served in the Air Force where he trained to be a firefighter and EMT. While in the Air Force, he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
After his service overseas, Martin’s older brother and father — both volunteer firefighters — inspired him to join the Buffalo Fire Department.
Martin especially loved being a firefighter. “I loved my job, it was chaos all the time. Everyday isn’t the same and everyday going to work, who knows what’s going to happen,” he told Emerald.
The carnage he witnessed in the Air Force and fire department caused him to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Martin also suffers from chronic back pain, which he treated with a synthetic opiate and x-ray guided injections of Tramadol directly to his spine.
However, these treatment methods did not produce the desired effects Martin wanted. As a result, he sought alternative remedies. Martin’s pain management doctor recommended medical cannabis to ease his symptoms.
Since 2018, Martin has treated his ailments with cannabis as a registered medical patient.
In December 2020, Martin was subject to a random drug test as a part of fire department protocol. According to his attorney, David Holland, a prominent New York City cannabis lawyer, Martin presented his medical cannabis identification and certification card to the deputy commissioner before taking the drug test.
Despite this, the department suspended him and required him to participate in a drug and alcohol assessment program. However, Martin continued to use medical cannabis after his suspension. Consequently, he tested positive for cannabis in another random drug test two months later.
Martin explained that the same day the drug and alcohol assessment program cleared him, the Buffalo Fire Department terminated him.
His termination made caring for himself and his family a difficult task.
“I was making a decent living and all of a sudden that’s just gone. My health insurance is gone, so that means my daughter’s health insurance [is] gone. I was seeing a therapist, but I can’t afford $300 a session now that I do not have insurance when I don’t have a job,” he said.
Holland explained that the department fired Martin because he violated their collective bargaining agreement (CBA). These agreements allow the employer to establish hours, vacation, overtime, sick days and other protocols for employees.
Enacted in 2014, The Compassionate Care Act established the New York State medical cannabis program that Martin participates in. Further, under New York Public Health Law (PHL) 3369 employers cannot discriminate against medical cannabis patients for their disability or subject them to adverse employment action.
Three years prior, the department established drug testing protocols through their CBA. It did not update them to recognize and accommodate patients like Martin.
In response to Martin’s suit, the City of Buffalo filed a motion. This explained that the department rejected recognition or accommodation for medical cannabis patients in the recent modifications to the CBA.
Holland explained the department intentionally waived Martin’s disability status, which the state’s Compassionate Care Act grants to him. That is discrimination, Holland clarified.
“It was clear discrimination on their part which is why we are not only seeking reinstatement, but other remedies for Scott as a protected medical patient,” he stated.
Commissioner of the Buffalo Fire Department, William Renaldo, submitted a written affidavit. In it, Renaldo claimed that if employee’s medical cannabis use violates a federal law or jeopardizes a federal contract or grant, an employer does not have to accommodate to their use. This is because the Buffalo Fire Department receives federal FEMA-related grants. As a condition of those grants, they must abide by the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act (DFWA).
This act requires grant-recipients to implement a drug policy and subject employee violators to disciplinary action or drug counseling.
Renaldo states that employing Martin as a medical cannabis patient violates federal law, threatens the department’s federal grants, and violates the Drug-Free Workplace Act.
However, Holland explained that while cannabis is not federally legal, this law is not enforceable in New York.
“Because Congress has passed spending appropriations bills, there’s no federal law that’s actually enforceable other than the Drug-Free Workplace Act in the state of New York right now. Congress has made it out [H.R.83 – Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 Sec. 538] that law enforcement cannot use federal funds to investigate and prosecute medical patients and medical providers, provided that they are compliant with New York State law,” he said.
Why is This Case Significant?
Holland believes that stigma and political culture is responsible for negative attitudes about medical cannabis that led to Martin’s termination.
“We are running on decades of people saying just say no to drugs and marijuana must be one of those evil ones. There are bad drugs in the world; there are bad drugs out there. But marijuana is not one of them,” he added. “It’s coming across that culture and paranoia of politics. There’s a whole history behind why [officials even made] marijuana illegal, it was for political suppression.”
He continued, “it was made to keep people like Scott Martin from being […] just as good as they could be, by using a lesser toxic, lesser addictive form of pain relief that brought greater relief.”
Martin’s case highlights another issue: can one’s disability status and rights be insignificant and waived under a CBA?
More specifically, the case considers whether or not the department’s CBA can waive disability status and anti-discrimination protections that the New York Public Health Law (PHL) 3369 and New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) granted to Martin.
This case appears to be the first of its kind in New York State and one of the first nationally.
According to Holland, this case set a legal precedent that a contract should never waive disability status.
“That precedent to show that indeed that the rights of the individual that were conferred on by the statute are greater than any collective bargaining rights out there or any other attempts to contract away, is hugely precedential. It will take precedent not only throughout the state, but also influence many other states as they come across this problem too,” he explained.
Next Steps For Martin’s Case
Holland believes the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Fire Department should reinstate Martin to the exact position he held before the drug test.
Martin is eager to be a firefighter again at Buffalo Fire Department and return back to his previous life.
“I love my job, I love helping people — the action, the excitement, being around the guys at work; it’s the whole thing,” he said.
“Everyone is stuck in the past; it’s not what they think it is. It’s medication, it’s all it is. It’s no different than anything else,” he continued. “I just want to be made whole. I just want to go back to being a dude just living my life, I never wanted any of this.”
Holland explained he alerted The New York Office of Cannabis Management’s (OCM) Control Board about Martin’s case. The OCM then forwarded the issue to the New York Department of Labor, who chose not to handle the matter. As a result, Holland will take Martin’s case to the highest court if necessary.
“What Buffalo has so successfully done is re-criminalize and re-stigmatize [Martin] for simply using medicine he’s allowed to under the law and is doing his job better as a result of it and he’s no longer in as much pain. I will never quit that fight,” he said.