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Employer Right to Terminate: Medical Marijuana Patients

Oct 2 | 2012  by

According to a Federal Appeals Court decision in Casias v. Wal-Mart, the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) does not prohibit a private employer from firing an employee who fails a drug test.

Joseph Casias was a Wal-Mart employee who was injured on the job. He was taken to the emergency room by his manager to receive treatment. Since he was injured at work, Mr. Casias was administered a standard drug test as required by Wal-Mart’s employee drug use policy. Mr. Casias tested positive for marijuana and was fired the following week.

Mr. Casias filed suit against Wal-Mart for wrongful termination. As a registered medical marijuana user under the MMMA, Mr. Casias believed that he was protected from disciplinary action for violating his private employer’s drug use policy.

The case was removed to federal court and the Sixth Circuit upheld the firing of the Plaintiff. The court reasoned that if the MMMA was allowed as a defense in a private employment action, Michigan businesses would be prohibited from disciplining employees who violate the company’s drug use policy. The judge stated that such a far-reaching result, if intended, would have been expressly enacted in the law and is not in line with the plain language of the statute.

The holding that the MMMA does not regulate private employment continues the general rule of at-will employment in Michigan. This preserves private employers’ ability to terminate employees for violating stated drug use policies, thus allowing employers to maintain a skilled and quality workforce imperative for businesses to run efficiently.

In other words, while the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act may prevent a criminal conviction for possession of marijuana, it will probably not protect an employer who discovers that an employee has a medical marijuana card and terminates that employee.

This case illustrates that the medical marijuana act does not provide anyone with carte blanche protection. Individuals who wish to obtain a concealed weapons permit or who live in federal housing are not protected by the MMMA.

Of course, since this is a federal court decision, it is not binding on Michigan courts. It does, however, provide guidance on the interpretation of the MMMA. If you have questions on MMMA or employment matters, contact Don Knapp at (248) 380-0000.