|Photo: Katy Batdorff/The Grand Rapids Press
|Cancer patient Joseph Casias was Walmart’s Employee of the Year — but they fired him after learning he uses medical marijuana with a doctor’s authorization.
Walmart’s former Employee of the Year won’t be going back to work there. A federal judge on Friday ruled that Michigan’s medical marijuana law protects legal users from arrest, but doesn’t protect them from employers’ policies which ban pot use.
Joseph Casias, who has an inoperable brain tumor, was fired by the Battle Creek Walmart after he failed a routine drug test following a workplace injury, reports John Agar at The Grand Rapids Press.
“The fundamental problem with (Casias’) case is that the (medical marijuana law) does not regulate private employment,” U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker wrote in his 20-page opinion.
“Rather, the Act provides a potential defense to criminal prosecution or other adverse action by the state… All the (law) does is give some people limited protection from prosecution by the state, or from other adverse state action in carefully limited medical marijuana situations,” the federal judge ruled.
According to Judge Jonker, the law “says nothing about private employment rights. Nowhere does the (law) state that the statue regulates private employment, that private employees are protected from disciplinary action should they use medical marijuana, or that private employers must accommodate the use of medical marijuana outside the workplace.”
Casias’ attorneys, including a team from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said that his firing undermines Michigan’s medical marijuana law, and forces patients to choose between jobs and medicine.
But the judge ruled that under the theory of Casias’ attorneys, “no private employer in Michigan could take any action against an employee based on an employee’s use of medical marijuana. This would create a new protected class in Michigan and mark a radical departure from the general rule of at-will employment in Michigan.”
The judge also rejected a request to have the case remanded for trial in Calhoun County Circuit Court. Jonker heard arguments on the case in November, and signaled that Casias’ attorneys had tried to expand the medical marijuana law into the workplace.
Casias, 30, said that he only used marijuana after his work shift, and never used on the job. He tried cannabis after his oncologist suggested it.
Walmart’s attorneys claimed that the medical marijuana law wasn’t mean to regulate businesses.
Casias’ case received so much attention nationwide that it influenced the writing of medical marijuana laws in places like Arizona, where an initiative including workplace protection for cannabis patients was approved last November.