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Are Michigan laws regarding marijuana use contradictory?

On Behalf of | Nov 21, 2017 | Workplace Discrimination |

Michigan legislature passes laws, but interpretation is often done at the Court of Appeals. The use of marijuana for medical reasons was passed into law in Michigan in 2008 by a 63 percent voter approval. In 2009, a Walmart employee was discharged from his job after failing a drug test, which came back positive for cannabis. The employee was medically prescribed the drug for sinus cancer and a brain tumor.

A wrongful discharge suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Results of the lawsuit, held before a U.S. district judge, were favorable to Walmart. A later appeal before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling. Final synopsis is that it is legal for a Michigan business to fire an employee for using medical marijuana, even when used during nonworking hours.

One defense attorney put it correctly when he stated that “a private business can penalize someone for being a medical marijuana patient.” The actual law states that medical marijuana card holders are to be protected from penalties, and that includes “disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau.” It appears that the “or” words used in this statement are confusing (or perhaps the lack of punctuation); the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals claimed that “business” was meant as just another modifier for the terms “licensing boards” or “bureaus.”

Appearing to contradict the interpretation by the district judge and circuit court, an employee who is discharged for medical use of marijuana cannot be denied unemployment benefits. When the Unemployment Insurance Agency attempted to deny benefits to three employees in 2014, the Michigan Court of Appeals was favorable to the employees. The Michigan Supreme Court refused to even hear an appeal regarding that decision.

As the legal use of medical marijuana is adopted by more and more states, maybe more conformity in the interpretation of the laws will be realized. Workplace discrimination of any kind, however, can — and should be — challenged. Laws should be enforced, but the interpretation should be clear. Newly enacted laws often leave plenty of room to be contested or interpreted.

Source: Lansing State Journal, “Can you be fired in Michigan for using medical marijuana?,” Sarah Lehr, Nov. 13, 2017


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