Pubdate: Sat, 25 Oct 2014
Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Copyright: 2014 Detroit Free Press
Author: Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Michigan)


In a breakthrough decision for those who say marijuana is medicine and
not a dangerous drug, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Friday that
workers who are state-approved users of medical marijuana should get
unemployment compensation if fired solely for testing positive for

"It's a very favorable decision for the civil rights of employees in
Michigan," said Matt Abel, a Detroit lawyer and senior partner of
Cannabis Counsel, a law firm that focuses on marijuana cases.

But Rich Studley, president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said
the ruling -- and the use of medical marijuana in general -- present
"a real dilemma" for employers.

"There's a serious question of workplace safety when people may use
medical marijuana before they come to work" and then operate machinery
or do other tasks that could endanger others, Studley said.

He said he hoped the ruling would be appealed. The Chamber of Commerce
filed an amicus brief in the case in opposition to allowing jobless
benefits to medical-pot users.

Michigan has had numerous cases of workers who, after receiving years
of good performance evaluations, were terminated when they failed
on-the-job drug tests because of their medical marijuana use, Abel

"This decision is another acknowledgment that medical-marijuana users'
rights have been unfairly infringed.

"They still can be fired for medical-marijuana use -- even off the
job, which we think is wrong. But now, at least they can't be barred
from unemployment benefits for that reason alone," said Abel, who also
is the executive director of Michigan NORML, the state's chapter of a
nationwide group that favors legalizing the drug.

Friday's decision applies only to Michiganders who are
state-registered users of the drug. The decision affirmed lower court
decisions that the state's medical marijuana law preempted its
unemployment law.

A three-judge Appeals Court panel found that three state courts
rightly reversed a decision by the Michigan Compensation Appellate
Commission to deny three workers their compensation after they were
fired by their employers for testing positive for marijuana. The
decision said that a provision of Michigan's medical marijuana act,
passed by voters in 2008, prohibits penalties for those who use
medical marijuana legally.

The decision encompassed separate cases from across the state in which
three employees had been fired from their jobs after allegedly
violating their employers' worksite policies by testing positive for
marijuana. Each possessed a state-issued medical marijuana card,
demonstrating that a medical doctor had approved their use of the drug
to treat a health condition.

Administrative law judges in each case had ruled in favor of forklift
operator Rick Braska, CT technician Jenine Kemp and furniture-repair
technician Stephen Kudzia.

"This is not the ultimate victory but it's a big step in the right
direction," said medical-marijuana user Steven Greene, 47, of Lyon

"Right now, marijuana is still classified with the federal government
as a Schedule I dangerous drug, the same as heroin, which is so
destructive to people's health. That's keeping a lot of society from
accepting it and keeping a lot of employers from accepting it," said
Greene, a candidate for trustee in Lyon Township.  
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