A state can adopt a liberal attitude toward medical marijuana use, but that doesn't mean that employers within that state are required to adopt a similarly progressive drug policy.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) does not protect patients from disciplinary action in a private employment setting for using medical marijuana, Huffington Post reports.
The plaintiff, James Casias, worked at Walmart's Battle Creek, Mich. store from 2004 until 2009, when he tested positive for marijuana; he was fired for violating Walmart's drug use policy.
Casias sued Walmart in state court for wrongful discharge and violation of the MMMA, arguing that the statute prevents a business from engaging in disciplinary action against a card holder who is a qualifying patient. Walmart removed the suit to federal court, and the district court dismissed the case. This week, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court.
Casias was diagnosed with sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor when he was 17. While employed at Walmart, he suffered ongoing pain in his head and neck. Traditional painkillers didn't help. After Michigan passed the MMMA in 2008, Casias' oncologist recommended that he try marijuana to treat his medical condition.
Casias obtained a registry card, and began using marijuana for pain management purposes. The treatment worked. He claimed that he complied with the state laws and never used marijuana while at work; nor did he come to work under the influence.
Under the MMMA, a qualifying patient or primary caregiver with a valid registry identification card is not subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalties, (including civil penalties or disciplinary actions by a business). Casias, however, was fired when he failed a required drug test following an on-the-job injury in 2009, despite providing Walmart with his medical marijuana registry card.
Here, the courts agreed that the not-subject-to-disciplinary-actions-by-a-business provision of the MMMA referred to actions by business licensing board or bureau, not a private company; the court reasoned that precluding adverse actions by private employers would contradict Michigan's at-will employment policy.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, noting that other state courts had also found that medical marijuana laws do not regulate private employment actions.
This type of employment disputes are bound to become more common as states continue to legalize medical marijuana. Could employers avoid court by proactively advising their staff if medical marijuana use violates the company's drug policy?