Joseph Casias injured his knee at the Battle CreekWal-Mart where he worked in 2009.
Per company policy, he took a drug test. It came back positive.
Casias had been using marijuana at home to treat pain from sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued on his behalf for wrongful discharge in violation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.
A U.S. District Judge sided with the company. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals later upheld the ruling.
In Michigan, it is legal for a business to fire an employee for using medical marijuana, even if the use occurs outside of business hours.
“Basically, a private business can penalize someone for being a medical marijuana patient,” said Joshua Covert, a defense attorney who represents people charged with marijuana-related offenses.
A section of the state’s Medical Marihuana Act says that patients with medical marijuana cards are protected from penalties, including “disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau.”
The Sixth Circuit has interpreted the word “business” as a modifier referring to licensing boards or bureaus.
“Based on a plain reading of the statute, the term ‘business’ is not a stand-alone term as Plaintiff alleges, but rather the word ‘business’ describes or qualifies the type of ‘licensing board or bureau,'” Judge Eric Clay wrote in response to Casias’ claim.
It is not legal, however, for someone fired for using medical marijuana to later be denied unemployment benefits.
The Michigan Court of Appeals in 2014 sided with three employees who had been denied unemployment benefits after being fired for using medical marijuana.
The Unemployment Insurance Agency appealed that ruling in 2015, but the Michigan Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal.
Michigan is an at-will employment state, which means an employer can fire someone for any reason. There is no burden for the employer to establish “just cause.”
Legally, employees can refuse to take a drug test, but they can be fired for that refusal.