Michael R. Lied

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MEDICAL MARIJUANA AND THE JOB (Tuesday, August 20, 2013)

Joseph Casias was an employee of Wal-Mart’s Battle Creek, Michigan store from November 1, 2004 until November 24, 2009, when he was terminated from Wal-Mart after testing positive for marijuana, in violation of the company’s drug use policy.

Casias was diagnosed with sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor.  The Michigan Department of Community Health issued Casias a registry card on June 15, 2009, and, in accordance with state law, he began using marijuana for pain management purposes.

Casias injured himself at work, and since he was injured on the job, he was administered a standard drug test at the hospital in accordance with Wal-Mart’s drug use policy.

Wal-Mart’s corporate office directed the store manager to fire Casias due to the failed drug test. Casias sued Wal-Mart in state court for wrongful discharge and violation of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (“MMMA”). Wal-Mart removed the case to federal court, and moved to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim.

According to the MMMA:

A qualifying patient who has been issued and possesses a registry identification card shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, including but not limited to civil penalty or disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau, for the medical use of marihuana in accordance with this act . . . .

Mich. Comp. Laws § 333.26424(a).

The court concluded that the MMMA contains no language stating that it repealed the general rule of at-will employment in Michigan or that it limitrf the range of allowable private decisions by Michigan businesses. The district court found that the word “business” does not govern private employment actions. The district court granted Wal-Mart’s motion to dismiss, and Casias appealed.

The court of appeals agreed that the MMMA does not impose restrictions on private employers, such as Wal-Mart.

Based on a plain reading of the statute, the term “business” is not a stand-alone term as Casias alleged, but rather the word “business” describes or qualifies the type of “licensing board or bureau.”

According to the court, it is clear that the statute uses the word “business” to refer to a “business” licensing board or bureau, just as it refers to an “occupational” or “professional” licensing board or bureau.

Therefore, a “qualifying patient” cannot be penalized or disciplined by a “business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau” for his medical use of marijuana.

Casias also argued that the statute regulated private employment relationships, restricting the ability of a private employer to discipline an employee for drug use where the employee’s use of marijuana is authorized by the state. However, the statute never expressly referred to employment, nor did it require or imply the inclusion of private employment in its discussion of occupational or professional licensing boards.

The appeals court noted that other courts have found that similar state medical marijuana laws do not regulate private employment actions. See Johnson v. Columbia Falls Aluminum Co., 350 Mont. 562, 2009 WL 865308, at *2 (Mont. 2009); Roe v. TeleTech Customer Care Mgmt., LLC, 216 P.3d 1055 (Wash. Ct. App. 2009); and Ross v. Ragingwire Telecomms., Inc., 174 P.3d 200, 203 (Cal. 2008).

The court of appeals also rejected Casias’ argument that his discharge was contrary to public policy.

Casias’ public policy interpretation could potentially prohibit any Michigan business from issuing any disciplinary action against a qualifying patient who uses marijuana in accordance with the MMMA. Such a broad extension of Michigan law would be at odds with the reasonable expectation that such a far-reaching revision of Michigan law would be expressly enacted. Such a broad extension would also run counter to other Michigan statutes that clearly impose duties on private employers when the duties imposed fundamentally affect the employment relationship. Casias v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 695 F.3d 428 (6th Cir. 2012)

It is possible that the Casias case may be relevant in Illinois as well. Medical marijuana will soon be lawful. The Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act, 820 ILCS 50/5 et seq. prohibits discrimination against employees for the use of lawful products off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours. It will be up to Illinois courts to harmonize these two statutes.

· Michael R. Lied
· Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC
· One Technology Plaza, 211 Fulton Street, Suite 600, Peoria, IL 61602
· (309) 999-6311
· MLied@howardandhoward.com