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FDNY EMS 911 operator plans to sue city over medical marijuana dispute

The 911 operator and EMT says he was placed on limited duty after being prescribed medical marijuana for Crohn’s disease

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By Laura French

NEW YORK — An FDNY EMS 911 operator says he plans to sue the city for allegedly opposing his use of medical marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease.

EMT and 911 Operator Benjamin Lerich, 26, told the New York Daily News that he was placed on limited duty in January after suffering a Chrohn’s disease-related medical emergency and being prescribed medical marijuana. Lerich said he was told he may face dismissal if he continues to use the prescribed drug.

Last month, Lerich filed a notice of claim stating his intentions to bring a $5 million lawsuit against the city. Lerich’s attorney, John Scola, said case law surrounding the issue is underdeveloped due to the evolving nature of medical marijuana laws across the country.

Medical marijuana is legal in the state of New York but has not been legalized under federal law. Because the FDNY receives federal funds, it must comply with the Drug Free Workplace Act, but Lerich says he only uses the prescription for pain and would not be going to work under the influence.

“The city, in this instance the Fire Department, has proven unwilling to accept the changes in law related to medical marijuana,” Scola told the Daily News. “City employees like Benjamin shouldn’t have to suffer while safety medicinal options are available to them.

Lerich said he has battled Crohn’s disease for four years and has undergone multiple surgeries, including the complete removal of his colon. He has worked at the FDNY answering 911 calls since 2019 but has been limited to performing data entry at COVID-19 vaccination sites since he informed the department of his medical marijuana use.