Walmart Employee Fired for Legal Use of Medical Marijuana Loses Appeal

Michigan is among 17 states to have legalized marijuana for medical purposes in recent years. Michigan law does not penalize the use, possession, or cultivation of marijuana by patients who carry a physician-approved prescription. In other words, the use of marijuana to help alleviate pain and discomfort from chronic illnesses is not in violation of any state law. So when one man, a prescription-holding cancer patient, was fired from his job for using his prescribed medication to alleviate symptoms, he felt his rights were not being upheld.

Joseph Casias, an inventory-control manager at the Battle Creek, Mich. Walmart, was fired in 2009 after testing positive for marijuana. Casias brought a lawsuit, represented in part by the American Civil Liberties Union, against Walmart for wrongful termination and for violating Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Act.

The U.S. District Court of Grand Rapids, Mich. ruled against Casias in 2011. Casias appealed, but the appeals court upheld the decision, ruling this week that Michigan law allows employers to fire people who use medical marijuana; the law only protects legal users from criminal repercussions, not from employer disciplinary actions.

"The doctor prescribed treatment was not the relevant issue. The issue is about the ability of our associates to do their job safely,” Walmart stated in 2010, according to this article from the The Huffington Post. But Casias's case maintained that employers should not be allowed to interfere with a worker's medical needs as determined by a doctor; that moderated medical marijuana use should be treated as any other medication of which an employer would not find grounds for termination.

The court decision came down to deciphering the language of the law. Casias’ attorneys argued that: “A qualifying patient … shall not be subject to arrest or … disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau …” meant Walmart, a business, could not take “disciplinary action” against an employee for marijuana use and that by firing Casias, they violated the law. However, the court interpreted the wording differently to read “a business” as part of the following description “... or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau ...”, grouping it in to read that no licensing board of the business-types could discriminate. Thus, rendering Walmart within the law to have fired Casias.

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