• Employers May Discipline Medical Marijuana Users
  • February 25, 2011 | Authors: Anthony R. Comden; Rebecca L. Strauss
  • Law Firms: Miller Johnson - Grand Rapids Office ; Miller Johnson - Kalamazoo Office
  • In 2008 Michigan voters passed a law allowing qualified individuals to use marijuana for medical purposes without violating state law.  The state has issued more than 55,000 patient cards allowing the cardholder to use marijuana for medical purposes.  The law does not specifically address the employer-employee relationship, and employers have questioned how the law impacts their own drug-free workplace policies and discipline decisions.  On Friday, the first court to face that specific issue decided that the medical marijuana law does not limit a private employer’s right to enforce its drug-free workplace policies.

    The Court’s Decision

    In the case decided by a federal district court in West Michigan, an employee at a Wal-Mart store participated in a routine drug test following an on-the-job injury.  The employee was registered with the state to use marijuana to treat a medical condition.  When his drug test showed marijuana in his system, Wal-Mart terminated his employment for violating its drug-free workplace policy, which does not make any exception for use of medical marijuana.  The employee, with the ACLU’s assistance, sued Wal-Mart for violating the medical marijuana statute and public policy, relying on some ambiguous language in the statute to argue for broad and far-reaching protections for medical marijuana users.

    The court dismissed the employee’s lawsuit last week.  In addition to questioning whether the law created a private cause of action at all, the court ruled that the law does not protect private employees from disciplinary action if their use of medical marijuana violates their employer’s policies.  This is a significant victory for employers.  Under the interpretation argued by the ACLU and rejected by the court, an employer could not discipline or discharge an employee for working while taking medical marijuana.  Given that more than 50,000 people in Michigan have medical marijuana authorization cards, the consequences of such a broad interpretation of the Michigan medical marijuana law could have been devastating.

    We have not yet received the final word on this issue.  The employee and the ACLU will likely appeal the court’s decision (which is not binding on other courts) to the Court of Appeals.   In addition, an employee’s use of medical marijuana may raise issues under the Family Medical Leave Act and state and federal disability accommodation laws.  Thus, employers should still proceed with caution when considering potential discipline or discharge of an employee who is authorized to take medical marijuana.

    What does this mean for Michigan employers?

    • Employers should review their drug-free workplace policy to ensure it identifies the company’s position on the use of medical marijuana.
    • Employers in Michigan do not have to allow employees who are authorized to take medical marijuana to work in violation of drug-free workplace policies.  If an employee in Michigan violates the drug policy by using marijuana, an employer is not required by law to modify its disciplinary action because of the Michigan medical marijuana law.
    • The recent court decision interprets the Michigan medical marijuana statute only and does not impact employees in other states.  Employers with employees in multiple states should review each state’s medical marijuana laws before disciplining an employee for the use of medical marijuana in that state.
    • Employees who are authorized by state law to take medical marijuana may be protected by the Family Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other state and federal employment laws.  Employers should carefully evaluate all potentially relevant statutes before taking adverse action against an employee for his or her use of medical marijuana.