Joseph Casias was fired in November 2009 by Wal-Mart for failing a drug test at work that indicated, correctly, that he had been recently exposed to marijuana. He tested positive after a drug screening was required for a worker’s compensation benefits claim, after he sprained his knee on the job “while struggling to control an overloaded, top-heavy cart of merchandise” that his manager had pressured him to relocate. Casias would not dispute that result; he has a rare sinus cancer (currently in remission) and an inoperable brain tumor. He is in constant pain, and he almost died before he was diagnosed. His oncologist prescribed medical marijuana to help Casais manage his pain, and to handle other symptoms of his illness; including some difficulties with speaking clearly. Casias has registered with Michigan, as he is required to do, and carries a medical marijuana card. (Michigan voters elected to approve medical marijuana use in their state in November 2008.)
Casias was interviewed by High Times and explained how he became a medical marijuana patient. “My oncologist has been my doctor since I was 17. We talked about it. I said, “This stuff is not helping – I need something that’s going to help me.” I was taking Lortab 10/500 [10 mg. of hydrocodone and 500 mg. of acetaminophen] for pain. I had no appetite; it made me sick to my stomach. I tried to take the anti-nausea medicine, but it just didn’t work so I stopped taking them. We talked about it, and he felt that marijuana would help me therapeutically and help me alleviate my pain. He thought it would be worth trying to see if it works — this was right after the law was passed. I didn’t even vote for this law because I didn’t know about it, but I want to thank all the Michigan voters who passed this law. It’s helped me so much.”
Casias had worked for five years at a Wal-Mart in Battle Creek, Michigan, starting off as an entry-level grocery stocker in 2004 and being promoted to an inventory-control manager. He is married and a father of two, and never used medical marijuana while at work. He had never been written up for poor performance and was a Wal-Mart Associate of the Year in 2008. Wal-Mart chose to challenge Casias’ workman’s comp benefits claim – citing “safety concerns” – and to stand by its decision to fire him for failing a drug screen, since “any marijuana use still is a violation of federal law”.
Casias took his firing hard: “I cried a lot over it because I really cared about my job. The managers would say, “I don’t know what we’d do without you, Joe …. You’re the best employee we have …. You’re our savior, Joe.” It wasn’t one or two managers – it was every manager. They knew if they came to me and wanted something done, I would do my best to do it.’ [...] I just want them to do the right thing. I do love [Wal-Mart]. Did they make me upset? Of course – but it’s just not in me to hate anyone or anything. That’s the person I am.”
Troy Reimink of MLive reports, ”[Casias'] story raises questions about how employers are to reconcile their drug policies with laws regarding the use of marijuana, particularly medical marijuana. Wal-Mart wants no part of it. In a statement, a company spokesman said: “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. We believe our policy complies with the law and we support decisions based on the policy.” It may be legal, but is it the right thing to do?”
Todd A. Heywood of the Michigan Messenger says, “The Marijuana Policy Project [...] called for a nationwide boycott of the chain. “It’s despicable that Wal-Mart would fire such a hardworking and seriously ill employee simply for treating his symptoms with a medicine that he is authorized to use under state law,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project and lead drafter of Michigan’s medical marijuana law. “Would Wal-Mart also fire someone for taking doctor-prescribed Percocet, or any of the other legal medications sold in many of Wal-Mart’s own stores?””
Former Chief Administrative Law Judge at the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Judge Francis L. Young said, ”The evidence in this record [9-6-88 ruling] clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record. The record here establishes conclusively that at least ‘a respectable minority’ of physicians has ‘accepted’ marijuana as having a ‘medical use in treatment in the United States.’ That the others [physicians] may not makes no difference… Nothing more can reasonably be required. That some doctors would have more studies and test results in hand before accepting marijuana’s usefulness here is irrelevant.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan supports Casias, saying that “[it is] immoral and it’s illegal to fire somebody for treating their disease with a medicine that’s legal and recommended by someone’s physician.” “You can’t discriminate against a person if you have a medical marijuana card, and if they use it for medicinal purposes,” said James McCurtis, a spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Community Health.
Unfortunately, current interpretation of most state and federal laws gives almost no job protection to medical marijuana users. Joseph Casias found out this week that he had lost his appeal.
Huffington Post reports that, on September 19th, “[u]pholding a decision by a federal judge in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last year, the appeals court said that “Michigan law doesn’t stop employers from firing people who use medical marijuana” and the “state medical marijuana law provides some immunity in criminal cases, but it doesn’t offer protection to people in the workplace.”
Blogger Gina Rau opines: “Times have changed, but perceptions might not be keeping up with the times. In some situations, laws haven’t kept up with changes and that causes problems for all of us. Brands too. [...] Times have changed. Companies, even the most conservative ones, need to better understand the issues, beliefs and attitudes of today’s generation of employees and shoppers. Expectations are evolving quickly and to become or remain relevant, a brand must keep up.”
Here’s the video: