March 15, 2010

Will WalMart Step Up and Do What’s Right?

March 15, 2010

Many of you have read in Ninjasmoker’s ‘Stoner Friendly Links’ that medical marijuana patient Joseph Casias was fired from a Michigan WalMart last week for failing a drug test. Since then Mr. Casias, who has sinus cancer and a brain tumor, has filed a lawsuit, rallies have been held on his behalf (with more to come), and a nationwide boycott has been called for. WalMart has stood firm, even challenging his unemployment claim. From what I can tell, WalMart has only released one public statement to the media.

“In states such as Michigan, where prescriptions for marijuana can be obtained, an employer can still enforce a policy that requires termination of employment following a positive drug screen,” stated Anna Taylor, of WalMart Corporate Communications. “We believe our policy complies with the law and we support decisions based on the policy.”

Michigan law states that a registered user can’t be subject to arrest, prosecution OR PENALTY IN ANY MANNER OR DENIED ANY RIGHT OR PRIVILEGE INCLUDING ACTION BY A BUSINESS. Later in the law it states “nothing in this act shall be construed to require an employer to accommodate the ingestion of marijuana in any workplace or any employee working while under the influence of marijuana.” Is simply allowing a patient to consume their prescribed medicine ONE TIME in a 30 day period an accommodation?

When I think of an ‘accommodation for ingesting marijuana in any workplace, or working under the influence,’ I interpret this to say that you are not allowed to eat brownies at your desk, hit the bong in your car on your break, or before work. Essentially, you can’t come to work intoxicated, or get intoxicated during the workday. BUT I DO NOT INTERPRET THIS LANGUAGE AS STATING THAT YOU CAN BE FIRED JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE CONSUMED MARIJUANA IN THE LAST 30 DAYS AS YOUR DOCTOR SUGGESTED. I guess it just depends on how persuasive your attorney is, and how biased the judge is.

It is interesting that the Michigan case is getting lots of media attention, rallies, and a boycott, while a similar case in Montana is being received with less fanfare (see link). Mike Babbitt was fired from ‘Loaf-n-Jug’ for testing positive for marijuana, despite being a medical marijuana patient. The obvious reason why is because Loaf-n-Jug is not nearly as high profile of an employer as WalMart. Activists are doing a good job of picking their battles in order to get the most media attention (which is working!) It begs the question; what would the political ramifications be if WalMart changed its position?

With over 3500 facilities nationwide, WalMart has more employees than some states have people. If medical marijuana advocates can pressure WalMart into changing their policy, it would be seen as a huge victory for marijuana use off the clock; both medical and recreational. Would it create a domino effect with other employers and how they handle medical marijuana? Michigan laws are open to interpretation on the issue of medical marijuana in the workplace, while 12 other states specifically state ‘no accommodations’ in their bill’s language. Only one state has expressly written into their law protections for medical marijuana patients (Rhode Island).

Will this high profile case be a catalyst for amendments in state legislatures, in regards to medical marijuana? I sure hope so, because this case can also have the opposite effect. If WalMart stands firm, and people don’t voice their opposition (both with their actual voice and with their dollars), it could result in other large businesses continuing the unfair practices of marijuana discrimination.


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