Important Ruling in Medical Marijuana and Workplace Drug Testing Case

A federal judge dismissed the case last Friday of a Wal-Mart employee in Michigan who claimed he was wrongfully terminated after testing positive for marijuana on a post-accident drug test. Joseph Casias had passed a pre-employment drug test when hired by Wal-Mart in 2004.

Medical Marijuana

In 2008, Michigan passed the Medical Marijuana Act, which allows patients with certain medical conditions to possess and use marijuana. In 2009, Mr. Casias began using medical marijuana and, after a workplace injury, took and failed a drug test.

According to the Courthouse News, the court that dismissed the case found that the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act “does not prohibit private employers from taking disciplinary action against an employee for conduct that the act protects from criminal prosecution.”

An AP story notes that “U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker said the law, approved by voters in 2008, bars authorities from prosecuting people for marijuana use but doesn’t tell private employers what to do.” The report continues:

“Under Casias’ theory of the case, ‘no private employer in Michigan could take any action against an employee based on an employee’s use of medical marijuana,’ Jonker said. ‘This would create a new protected employee class in Michigan and mark a radical departure from the general rule of at-will employment.'”

With medical marijuana statutes in place in 16 states, this particular ruling, especially involving a large employer like Wal-Mart in a high-profile case, may impact employer drug testing programs and policies beyond Michigan. For employers with employees in safety-related positions, this ruling may even be more important as a roadmap for handling safety and post-accident drug testing issues.

Wal-Mart spokesperson Greg Rossiter explained: “we have to consider the overall safety of our customers and associates, including Mr. Casias…Until further guidance is available, we’ll always default to what we believe is the safest environment.”

Let us know what you think of this ruling and how it might impact employer drug testing programs.