Courts smack down marijuana patients

Courts smack down marijuana patients

Friday was not a good day for medical marijuana patients, with two separate court cases being denied by one state court and one federal court in Michigan.

In one case, a federal judge in Grand Rapids upheld the firing of a Walmart employee with an inoperable brain tumor. Joseph Casias was fired from his post at a Battle Creek Walmart after a routine drug test associated with a worker’s compensation claim Casias filed determined he was using marijuana. He was using the medication to control symptoms of the tumor.

His attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union sued Walmart, claiming Casias couldn’t be fired for using medical marijuana, but on Friday U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker ruled Walmart had the right to dismiss Casias, in spite of the fact he had a valid MMA card and patient status for the prescription medication.

Judge Jonker ruled that Michigan’s medical marijuana law “says nothing about private employment rights” but “only provides a potential defense to criminal prosecution or other adverse action by the state.”

“Nowhere,” he said “does the (law) state that the statute regulates private employment, that private employees are protected from disciplinary action should they use medical marijuana, or that private employers must accommodate the use of medical marijuana outside of the workplace.”

Casias has vowed to appeal the decision.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that while a man arrested in Grand Haven had a legal prescription for medical marijuana, the state could still charge him with a felony for possessing 25 marijuana plants.

In 2009, officers visited Benjamin Curtis Walburg, 24, at his home. They were acting on a tip that he as growing marijuana. Police and prosecutors filed criminal charges of manufacturing marijuana — a felony that could land Walburg in prison for up to seven years.

But Walburg argued that he should not face criminal charges, citing the affirmative defense in Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act. He provided a valid prescription for the drug and Ottawa County Circuit Court Judge Edward Post dismissed the case in November.

Prosecutors, however, weren’t happy with Post’s ruling, so they appealed.

Friday, the Appeals court agreed with prosecutors that Walburg, even if legally qualified under the MMA, had violated the provision about how many plants he could have. The law allows a patient to grow no more than 12 plants, but Walburg had 25.

Walburg’s attorneys argued that the 12 plant limit was something instituted by the Michigan Department of Community Health, under provisions in the law which define the number of plants as ‘reasonably necessary.’

“Unfortunately, the Legislature neglected to define the term ‘reasonably necessary’ within the statute, leaving it open to interpretation based on the individual circumstances of each case,” (pdf) opined the court in a ruling made public Friday.

In Colorado, which has a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana, the Legislature seems to write new laws every year to regulate marijuana, angering various constituencies and pleasing almost no one.

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Ed Brayton

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