Marijuana’s status as a Schedule I Drug, or a dangerous drug with no medicinal uses, is slowly crumbling as state after state passes medicinal marijuana laws or outright legalization. In a recent ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals, the court held that an employee fired for legal marijuana use cannot be denied unemployment benefits.
It’s a small step, but an important one. Before, when someone was fired for failing a drug test, it was typically for off-duty use. To add insult to injury, the state considered that, since marijuana is a Schedule I Drug, the employee’s marijuana use even off-duty created a hazardous work environment. Because of that, once fired, the employee could be denied unemployment benefits. Incredibly, off-duty medicinal marijuana use was considered as dangerous as on-duty alcohol use.
However, once Michigan passed its own medicinal marijuana provisions in 2008, the State Court of Appeals could no longer hold that any off-duty medicinal marijuana use is inherently dangerous because it would be inconsistent with state law. The downside is that, because of the federal designation as a Schedule I substance, employers can still fire employees with impunity. Such changes will have to occur at the federal level.
This ruling could not have come at a better time in that regard. As of the writing of this article, the constitutionality of the federal designation of marijuana as a Schedule I drug is about to be tested in United States v. Pickard. In addition to scientific evidence of the medicinal uses of marijuana, federal courts have always placed a great amount of weight on how other states treat marijuana. Such rulings, even as far away as Michigan, will be undoubtedly helpful.
The cold, hard reality of the law is that it is primarily driven by consensus, which is why it is more important than ever to advocate for substantive changes in the law to influence greater change in the courts.