03/08/2013 11:25 am ET Updated Mar 08, 2013

Medical Marijuana Unemployment Benefits OK For Qualified Michigan Patients, Judge Says

It's no fun getting fired, but at least Michigan medical marijuana patients canned for state-approved pot use can still look forward to unemployment benefits.

Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette decided Tuesday that a state medical marijuana patient who got laid off for using the herb could qualify for jobless benefits, overruling a state commission, the Lansing Journal reports.

"The Judge made a well-reasoned decision," Matthew Abel, an attorney with the Cannabis Counsel law firm and the Executive Director of Michigan NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), told The Huffington Post in an email. "Even if the state appeals, it is likely to stand."

The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act of 2008 makes it legal for patients suffering from a number of ailments like cancer to use the substance as a medication, but they need to have legitimate certification from a doctor. In August of 2012, the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission ruled that the MMMA "does not offer any employment protection to card holders" and "does not regulate private employment," according to court documents provided by the Lansing State Journal.

The trial revolved around the 2011 firing of Jenine Kemp, who had worked as a CT scan technician and handled IVs at Hayes Green Beach Memorial Hospital in Charlotte, Mich. Kemp, who suffers from neuropathy and lupus and is a valid state medical marijuana patient, was let go after a patient complained she had spoken about using marijuana. After the the complaint, Kemp notified her employer she was a marijuana patient, but subsequently failed a drug test and was fired.

“Disqualification from unemployment benefits for use of medical marijuana in conformity with the MMMA would amount to an impermissible penalty... [and be] contrary to law,” Collette wrote in his court opinion.

He added that the state unemployment agency's guidelines say applicants should not be rejected for jobless benefits unless they're "in possession of marijuana while at work, under the influence of marijuana while at work or using marijuana while at work" and that Kemp did "not fall within any of these categories.”

However, employers are allowed to fire medical marijuana users under state law. In a September case, Michigan appeals court upheld a judge's decision that Walmart employee Joseph Casias, a medical marijuana patient who suffers from an inoperable tumor and cancer, was not wrongfully fired when he was let go because of his pot use.

In another recent ruling, Michigan's Supreme Court decided that medical marijuana dispensaries aren't allowed under the MMMA, but the state House is currently considering legislation that would permit the establishment and regulation of dispensaries.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia currently allow the medicinal use of marijuana, according to the Associated Press.



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