Pubdate: Sun, 28 Mar 2010
Source: Battle Creek Enquirer (MI)
Copyright: 2010 Battle Creek Enquirer
Author: Elizabeth Willis
Referenced: Michigan's law
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - U.S.)


Companies Evaluate Their Drug Policies

Local companies are scrambling to decide what they would do if an 
employee was using marijuana for medical reasons.

Interest in company drug policies spiked after a Battle Creek area 
man said recently he was fired from Walmart on B Drive North after a 
routine drug test confirmed he had used marijuana.

Joseph Casias, 29, has a state license to grow, carry and use 
marijuana because he has sinus cancer and a brain tumor. The store 
fired him in November anyway.  Casias did not return requests for comment.

Michigan voters in 2008 made marijuana use legal for patients with 
certain medical illnesses, including cancer, Hepatitis C, Alzheimer's 
disease, HIV and AIDS.  The law does not protect people who use it at 
work, explained Greg Francisco, executive director of the Michigan 
Medical Marijuana Association.

"The law is very clear that employees cannot be intoxicated or use 
marijuana on the job, and nobody is saying anyone has the right to 
use marijuana on the job," he said. "At the same time, we would hope 
employers would have a sense of decency."

Francisco said Casias showed no signs of abusing the drug and he 
should have been treated like any other employee using a prescription 
painkiller or antidepressant to treat an illness.

"The man has terminal cancer," he said. "Why would Walmart want to 
add to that aggravation or stress?"

Walmart no longer is contesting Casias' claim for unemployment, a 
company spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.

"This is just an unfortunate situation all around. We are sympathetic 
to Mr. Casias' condition but, like other companies, we have to 
consider the overall safety of our customers and associates, 
including Mr. Casias, when making a difficult decision like this," 
the company said in a written statement.

Area managers are anxious about confronting a similar medical 
marijuana scenario, said Dan Fry, marketing manager with HelpNet, an 
employer relations assistance program supported by Battle Creek 
Health System. Most companies and employees will need to examine 
their drug policies for guidance or face legal consequences.

"A drug is a drug is a drug," he said. "It's probably no different 
than employees who are using prescription drugs. ... Is this person 
fit to do his or her job, yes or no?"

Earlier this month, I.I. Stanley Co. Inc. instituted a new method in 
which it tested all employees and associates for drugs on the same 
day without warning.  The more rigorous policy included, for the 
first time, its Japanese associates, said Greg Bond, section manager 
for human resources.

I.I. Stanley produces automotive lighting and electronics in the Fort 
Custer Industrial Park at 1500 Hill Brady Road. Its workers do not 
have a union to negotiate the company's drug testing policies.

Bond said previous attempts to randomly screen for drug use seemed to 
create strife among employees.

"Some people got picked multiple times," he said, while others 
suspected of using drugs never seemed to get picked.

I.I. Stanley gave employees the option of quitting rather than take 
the test, Bond said. Nine of its 570 workers made that choice.

"We wanted to make this easy for people," he said. "If you think you 
have a problem and you don't want it on your record; if we fire you 
for drug use that can follow you for the rest of your life."

Of the employees who submitted to the urine screening, 17 showed 
illicit drugs in their systems, he said.

All of the 17 workers had used marijuana. None had medical marijuana 
registry cards and all were fired, though they have the option to 
appeal, he said.  Employees who had other narcotics in their urine 
were asked to show a prescription to justify its use.

Bond said I.I. Stanley is committed to being a drug-free workplace to 
ensure the safety of its workers and quality of its products.

"Technically, our drug policy is zero tolerance," he said. "If you 
use drugs you can't work here."

But he was unsure how I.I Stanley would have dealt with an employee 
with marijuana in his system had he been licensed to use it.

"I think it will come down to: you can't be under the influence at 
work," he said. "The problem that you run into is, I don't believe 
there is a test out there that says you are under the influence now."

Union employees at Battle Creek's Kellogg Co. do not currently submit 
to routine drug testing, except when they are hired into the company 
or after returning from substance abuse treatment, said Rocky Marsh, 
president and business agent of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco 
Workers and Grain Millers Union, Local 3-G.

Marsh said the union will renegotiate the terms of its supplemental 
agreement for Battle Creek cereal workers before the current one 
expires April 3, 2011. He hopes to add language to the agreement that 
addresses medical use of marijuana.

"We're going to recommend that same procedure that's in place now, 
but with new people coming in, because of the law, we would like 
Kellogg to consider that particular qualifying patient as being still 
eligible to work," he said. 
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