Michigan Takes on Growing Medical Marijuana Issues

Jennifer Gladstone

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Over the last year, Michigan courts have been tackling some of the growing problems between employers and employees over medical marijuana.

The first issue: Can a private employer terminate someone for drug use if they are using medical marijuana legally?

A couple of years ago, a Michigan district court held that employers can fire someone for a positive drug test, even if they are using legally.  In Casias v. Wal-Mart inventory manager Joseph Casias started using medical marijuana after being on the job for 5 years. He legally obtained a registry card through the 2008 Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA).  

Everything was fine until Casias was injured on the job.  Wal-Mart requires post-accident drug testing.  Casias says he advised the clinic staff that he had a medical marijuana registry card, but after testing positive, he was fired from his job.

The court concluded that even though Casias is protected by the MMMA, the act does not supersede the employer’s right to terminate workers who use drugs. Wal-Mart has a zero-tolerance policy, and since the MMMA does not regulate private employment, the court dismissed the wrongful termination suit.  

The Second Issue: Can a medical marijuana user still receive unemployment after being terminated for drug use?

Many medical marijuana users find themselves in a catch 22.  They are terminated for using drugs- even though they are doing so legally. Then they are denied unemployment compensation because state laws say you can’t get unemployment assistance if you lose your job because of drug use.  

A Michigan appellate court, however, made a move to fix this.  The court ruled that an employee who holds a state medical marijuana card can still get unemployment benefits, even if they lost their job because they failed a drug test.

The appeal was a consolidation of three different cases.  All three employees were legally registered under the MMMA, and each was fired for failing a drug test. None had been impaired at work, and there was no evidence that the drug was used outside of its medicinal purpose.

The appeals court concluded the MMMA trumped the Michigan Employment Security Act (MESA) that would disqualify pot users from getting unemployment.

In early November the Michigan Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the Unemployment Insurance Agency in one of the cases. The denial means people with marijuana cards who lose their jobs after failing a drug testing will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Expect similar scenarios to play out across the country as more medical marijuana laws take effect in the new year.

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Jennifer Gladstone

Posted By: Jennifer Gladstone

Jennifer Gladstone is a news anchor and journalist with more than 20 years of experience in front of the camera. She's worked in several markets, large and small, and has performed nearly every task needed in a newsroom. As EBI’s Screening News Editor, she keeps EBI’s customers and blog subscribers up to date on the latest screening news and legislative alerts affecting companies of all sizes.

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