By: Denise Pollicella for Culture Magazine
In March 2013, the Ingham County Circuit Court found that a qualifying, registered medical cannabis patient fired for a positive drug test should not be disqualified from unemployment benefits. But don’t tell that to the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA).
Michigan’s UIA, refusing to be bound by the trial court, continues to refuse unemployment benefits to qualifying patients who fail drug tests. To the untrained ear of the general citizenry, this may sound banal, but to the state’s 120,000+ medical cannabis patients, it is potentially disastrous, as well as insulting, hypocritical and confusing.
The Unemployment Security Act states you will be denied unemployment benefits if you test positive on a drug test. It then defines “drug test” as a test designed to detect the illegal use of a controlled substance. Sounds okay so far, except that in 2011, Michigan’s Supreme Court found that 11-nor-9-Carboxy-THC, a secondary metabolite of cannabis, is not a controlled substance, and employers are primarily using urine testing which only detects that metabolite.
Because the Carboxy-THC can stay in your system for days or sometimes weeks, a patient can, for example, medicate on a Sunday, have a positive drug screen on Wednesday, be fired and then denied unemployment, all because they tested positive for something that’s not a controlled substance that they were not taking illegally. The ridiculousness is, frankly, mind boggling when you remember that the UIA and the Medical Marihuana Program (MMP) are both inside Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), so the same department issuing MMP registry cards is the same department denying unemployment benefits to those card holders.
We are not talking about using, possessing or being under the influence of cannabis at work here. This is just about people who have a debilitating medical condition who use medical cannabis so that they can continue to support their families and be productive members of the community. To be sure, the easiest fix would be for employers to stop firing medical cannabis patients. Don’t hold your breath. Many companies are, I suspect, using medical cannabis firings to circumvent their obligations to employees who would otherwise be protected by the ADA. Nothing rebuts a prima facie charge of disability discrimination better than a positive drug test.
Never mind, for a minute, the legal arguments and the MMMA’s edict to protect patients from losing rights and privileges. What’s the message here? If you want a job and the security of unemployment benefits if you lose that job, don’t be a medical cannabis patient? The practical effect of this policy is converting people who could otherwise work and pay taxes into impoverished, unemployable welfare recipients. I guess it’s a good thing they don’t drug test welfare recipients . . .
The Ingham County case is on appeal, and by the looks of it, the Attorney General is going to the mat on this one. In the meantime, medical cannabis patients perch on the wrong side of limbo waiting for some common sense to take hold, walking into work with fingers crossed.