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Michigan Workers Fired Over Medical Marijuana Use Sue For Jobless Benefits

Medicinal pot is legal in the state. So why are workers being canned for using marijuana?
 
 
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In 2011, Jenine Kemp was fired from her hospital job in Michigan after testing positive for marijuana, which she said she used legally outside of work for medicinal purposes because of lupus.  The year before, forklift driver Rick Braska was likewise fired from his job for using medicinal marijuana--legal in the state since 2008.  Both workers’ use of pot was revealed in drug tests.

They are looking for the right to obtain jobless benefits even if fired for legal drug use.

Now, Kemp’s and Braska’s cases are in court.  But a powerful business group, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, wants the judicial system to rule it’s legal to fire employees for legally smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes.  The Michigan Chamber of Commerce also wants the court to say it’s legal to deny unemployment benefits to workers who use medical cannabis.  A lower court in the state has ruled it’s illegal to fire workers for that reason, and now the Michigan Appeals Court is hearing the case.

“The Michigan Chamber is seeking a reversal of the lower court's decision because it puts employers in a no-win situation,” Rich Studley, the head of the chamber of commerce, said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.  "If the circuit court's ruling is allowed to stand, employers will be forced to either ignore known drug use and jeopardize workplace safety or discharge those employees and pay their unemployment benefits and, subsequently, higher unemployment taxes."

Kemp uses pot to ease the pain from lupus, which attacks her joints.  “She never showed any signs of intoxication or being under the influence. There was no indication she was using marijuana on the job," said Eric Misterovich, Kemp’s attorney. "The only complaints came when she talked about medical marijuana. That's what prompted the drug test."

 

Alex Kane is AlterNet's New York-based World editor, and an assistant editor for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

 
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