MI Supreme Ct Denies Medical Marijuana Appeal Affecting Workplace Safety

November 17, 2015

The Michigan Chamber is disappointed with the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision to deny an appeal from the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) in a case involving benefits for people fired from jobs over medical marijuana use. The court's failure to act creates serious issues for employers wishing to maintain drug-free workplaces.

In refusing to take the appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld an October 23 decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals held that, although claimants testing positive for marijuana would ordinarily be disqualified for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits under the law, the same does not hold true for employees using marijuana under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA).

The Court of Appeals consolidated and upheld three separate Circuit Court orders that granted unemployment benefits to employees who possessed medical marijuana cards but were discharged for failing a drug test in violation of their employer's drug-free workplace policies. The Court of Appeals determined the MMMA preempts the Michigan UI law and disqualifying an eligible claimant for UI benefits due to a positive medical marijuana drug test represents a “penalty” under the MMMA. (The court cited a clause in the MMMA providing: “A qualifying patient who has been issued and possesses a registry identification card shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege…”.) 

The Michigan Chamber Litigation Center filed an amicus brief challenging the lower courts’ decisions on this issue because it puts employers in a no-win situation: Either accommodate medical marijuana users and jeopardize workplace safety or discharge those employees and pay their UI benefits and, subsequently, higher UI taxes. No other state that has authorized the use of medical marijuana requires this type of accommodation by employers. 

Although there are no remaining legal strategies to pursue, a legislative fix is still possible and the Michigan Chamber will continue to advocate to the Legislature that employer and patient rights can be balanced under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act and UI law, allowing employers to continue to enforce zero-tolerance drug policies without being penalized when a medical marijuana user violates that policy. It is important to note that any fix to the law will require a 3/4ths vote in the Michigan House and Senate (versus a simple majority) because the MMMA was passed by Michigan voters in 2008. 

For more information, or if you have any questions, please contact Wendy Block, Director of Health Policy & Human Resources for the Michigan Chamber, at wblock@michamber.com.