Medi-Pot Patient Sues Wal-Mart

Man survives cancer, but not Wal-Mart

Medi-Pot Patient Sues Wal-Mart

How does Wal-Mart prove that it doesn't mistreat its workers? By firing a model employee with an inoperable brain tumor after finding out he uses medi-pot, that's how.

For years the nation's largest retailer, smiley-faced Wal-Mart, has be saddled with accusations that it mistreats its workers. Though the retailer generally protests those characterizations, Wal-Mart hasn't done much to counter the image – and that's especially true in the case of Joseph Casias. Casias works at Wal-Mart because he actually likes it: He rose from an entry-level grocery stocker to inventory control manager in just four years. In 2008, he was named employee of the year of his Battle Creek, Mich., store.

Of course that was before management found out that Casias is also a medi-mari patient.

Casias has lived for 10 years with sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor. Traditional medicines – that is, pharmaceuticals – haven't helped and he's lived with constant pain, his lawyers argue in a recently filed lawsuit. So, after Michigan voters in 2008 legalized medi-pot for qualified patients, like Casias, the 30-year-old's doctor suggested that Casias try it. He did and it worked – and well: the pot kept the nausea and pain at bay and actually allowed him to gain back some of the weight he'd lost over the years. He was, his lawyers argue, feeling pretty good.

That is until he was injured at work and was given a drug test during treatment. There were cannabinoids in his system and that was that as far as Wal-Mart was concerned – even though Casias was able to show that he was a state-registered medi-mari user. According to Wal-Mart, that doesn't matter: Wal-Mart has a zero-tolerance for drug use and requires drug screening when there are workplace injuries, a spokesman for the retailer told the Detroit Free Press.

But Casias' lawyers say Wal-Mart's actions are in direct violation of the popularly-enacted law that protects individuals not only against criminal action but also against adverse employment action as a result of their state-regulated pot use. Wal-Mart is "a very large corporation," Dan Korobkin, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, which represents Casias told the FreeP, but "they don't write the laws."

Indeed, the Michigan medi-pot law contains a provision to protect users from arrest and other adverse actions. State-registered patients "shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, including but not limited to civil penalty or disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau, for the medical use of marihuana in accordance with this act," reads the law.

The law doesn't require employers to make any special considerations for medi-pot-using employees – like accommodations for toking while on duty. Still, how Casias' lawsuit will come out in the wash is unclear: adverse employment actions based on medi-pot smoking in other states (notably a recent court ruling in Oregon) haven't resolved in favor of the employee.

Still, in Casias' case, it seems Wal-Mart is going out of its way just to behave like an ogre: According to the Marijuana Policy Project, which first blogged about Casias' case in March, the Arkansas-based retailer at first not only fired Casias but also sought to block his access to unemployment benefits. The chain has apparently relented on this point, but still won't give Casias his job back, which is what he really wants. "For some people, working at Wal-Mart is just a job, but for me, it was a way of life," Casias said. "I came to Wal-Mart for a better opportunity for my family and I worked hard and proved myself. I just want the opportunity to continue my work."

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