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ACLU Sues Wal-Mart for Firing Employee for Medical Marijuana Use

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June 29, 2010

Today, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart for wrongfully firing employee Joseph Casias for using medical marijuana after work during off-duty hours in the privacy of his home.

Joseph is 30 years old, married, and the father of two young children. Since 2004, he’s worked at a Wal-Mart in Battle Creek, Michigan. In 2008, he was named that store’s Associate of the Year.

Joseph has sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor. The tumor, the size of a softball when first diagnosed, sits at the back of his head near his spinal column. He suffered from severe pain in his face, head and neck, even after extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Pain medications prescribed by his doctor only helped minimally, and made him nauseous.

But in 2008, Michigan voters passed the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA), which provides protection for the medical use of the drug under state law. Joseph’s doctor recommended that he try marijuana as permitted by the new law, so Joseph obtained the appropriate registry card from the Michigan Department of Community Health and began using marijuana to alleviate the pain. According to the complaint filed today, the effects were “immediate and profound.” His pain decreased dramatically, the new medicine did not induce nausea and Joseph was able to gain back some of the weight he had lost during treatment.

The MMMA protects patients like Joseph who are registered with the State of Michigan from “arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner” for using marijuana as medicine. This provision protects employees from being disciplined by their employers for their use of medical marijuana so long as the employee does not use marijuana while at work, nor come to work under the influence of the drug.

In late 2009, Joseph twisted his knee at work. He was given a drug test after being sent to the doctor’s office, and predictably failed that test due to his lawful use of medical marijuana. Wal-Mart then fired him because he failed the test, despite the company’s knowledge that he was lawfully using marijuana for pain treatment under the MMMA and was not under the influence of the drug while at work.

Our lawsuit charges that Wal-Mart wrongfully terminated Joseph in violation of the protections of the MMMA.

Though the lawsuit was filed in state court, the decision in this case could affect patients’ rights in the 13 other states (and D.C.) that allow medical marijuana use.

Joseph is exactly the kind of patient Michigan voters had in mind when the passed the MMMA. Today, we’re asking the court to not allow Wal-Mart to punish Joseph for merely taking refuge from his pain, and using marijuana as allowed by state law. Corporations should never be allowed to force patients to choose between their health care and their job.

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