A Michigan federal court has dismissed an ACLU lawsuit brought on behalf of a former employee of Wal-Mart who sought employment protection under Michigan's medical marijuana law.  Joseph Casias sued Wal-Mart claiming wrongful termination after he was fired for testing positive for marijuana.  Casias had worked at Wal-Mart for several years and had been recently named "associate of the year."  He had been given a prescription for medical marijuana (presumably under the protections of the state law) for pain associated with cancer.  Wal-Mart terminated Casias after its test revealed the drug in his system.  Notably, the use of the drug here was apparently done only outside the workplace.  Casias claimed his termination violated Michigan public policy and the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act ("MMMA") (passed in 2008).   The Court heard the case based on diversity jurisdiction, and granted Wal-Mart's motion to dismiss. 

The Court found that the MMMA " says nothing about private employment rights" and only applied to government action, not the actions of private employers.  The Court rejected a reading proposed by the ACLU, and found that the MMMA was focused on protection from state action, providing only "limited protection from prosecution by the state, or from other adverse state action in carefully limited medical marijuana situations" (with the Court also recognizing that the "use of marijuana is still a federal felony.").

The Court summarized:  "The MMMA meant to provide some limited protection for medical marijuana users from state actions, primarily arrest and prosecution. Even the scope of that protection is unclear and limited. Nothing in the language or the purpose of the MMMA indicates an intent of the Michigan voters to regulate private employment, and the MMMA does not address private employment directly. Whatever protection the MMMA does provide users of medical marijuana, it does not reach to private employment."  The ACLU has stated that it plans to appeal.

In the meantime, this case presents a victory for employers and could serve as persuasive authority for decisions in other states that have yet to address these issues based on similar state laws.  Where a state's medical marijuana law does not explicitly extend protections to employment, it's possible that law will not prevent employers from taking action based on employees' use of the drug.

Casias v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 1:10-cv-781 (W.D. Mich. 2011)

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Categories: Employment/Labor Law

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