Michigan Appeals Court Rules That Medical Marijuana Law Trumps Unemployment Law

A new ruling in a Michigan appeals court stated that if an employee gets fired only because they use medical marijuana, they still qualify for unemployment benefits. Three lower Michigan courts’ rulings were upheld: In Michigan, medical marijuana laws trump unemployment laws. In other words, if you live in Michigan and get fired because you smoked marijuana legally, you can still get unemployment money while you look for another job. The court ruled that it doesn’t matter what an employer’s policy is, Michigan’s medical marijuana law forbids penalties “in any manner” as long as the marijuana was used legally.

The attorney general’s office in Michigan claimed the state law protects people from criminal prosecutions, but did not protect them from unfavorable rulings in civil disputes such as unemployment pay, according to CBS News. The courts disagreed with the attorney general’s office. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, according to the court’s decision, supersedes the the Michigan Employment Security Act. Thankfully for medical marijuana patients, the MMMA purposely uses plain language.

“The plain language of the MMMA’s immunity clause states that claimants shall not suffer a penalty for their medical use of marijuana,” the court opinion stated.

The ruling came about after three employees were fired between 2010 and 2012 when they violated their employers “drug free” policies. The three employees had tested positive for medical marijuana, but were using marijuana in a way Michigan law says is legal. Forklift operator Rick Braska, CT tech Jenine Kemp, and furniture repairman Stephen Kudzia were the three medical marijuana patients at the center of the controversial case, according to Hemp. The employers of these three Michigan medical marijuana patients never accused their employees of being under the influence of the marijuana at any time on the job.

“It’s a very favorable decision for the civil rights of employees in Michigan,” Matt Abel, a Detroit lawyer and senior partner of Cannabis Counsel, told The Detroit Free Press. Not everyone is pleased with the ruling though.

“There’s a serious question of workplace safety when people may use medical marijuana before they come to work” Rich Studley, president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said of the ruling.

Employers can require employees to not be under the influence while on the job. They are allowed to have drug-free policies. Michigan employees can still be fired for marijuana use, but because of the new ruling, smoking marijuana legally for medical reasons is not a reason to deny unemployment payments.

[Image via MarijuanaPatients.org]