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Michigan Court: Medical Marijuana Patients Eligible for Unemployment Benefits

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Using medical marijuana in the state of Michigan may cost you your job, but it won’t cost you your unemployment benefits. So decided the Michigan Supreme Court earlier this month, when it failed to consider an appeal by Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency.

The decision keeps in place a 2014 appellate court ruling determining that qualified medical patients cannot be denied unemployment benefits simply for failing a workplace drug test. As long as there is “no evidence to suggest that the positive drug tests were caused by anything other than claimants' use of medical marijuana in accordance with the terms of the MMMA (Michigan Medical Marijuana Act), the denial of the benefits constitute[s] an improper penalty,” the<lower court opined.

Over 60 percent of Michigan voters decided in favor of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act in November 2008.

The ruling marks the second time that a state court has ordered that medical marijuana patients are eligible for compensation while off the job. Last year, the New Mexico Court of Appeals decided that a person’s use of medical cannabis constitutes “reasonable and necessary care” and that such care ought to be reimbursed by employers in instances where it is used to treat injuries sustained while working. Under newly proposed state rules, injured workers may be eligible to receive compensation for up to two pounds of medical cannabis over a one-year period.

Yet, while state courts appear to be willing to accommodate the needs of former employees, to date, no state court has opined in favor of the rights of medical marijuana patients to keep their jobs.

In June, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld Dish Network’s decision to fire employee Brandon Coates, a quadriplegic and state-qualified medical cannabis patient, because of his failure to pass a random urine screen. The court determined that Coates’ off-the-job pot use was not ‘lawful activity,’ as defined by the state’s lawful activities statute, because cannabis still remains federally illegal.

The Colorado decision mirrors those of courts in California (Ross v. Ragingwire Telecom), Oregon (Emerald Steel Fabricators Inc. v. Bureau of Labor and Industries), and Washington (Roe v. Teletech Customer Care Management LLC)—each of which similarly determined that state laws exempting marijuana consumers from criminal liability do not provide employees with civil protections in the workplace.

(Photo Courtesy of Chicago Tribune)

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