Doctors say a number of medicines or combination of medicines, such as antihistamines, could pose a danger at the workplace. And medical marijuana, which is thought to be relatively safe, falls into the category of substances that could be hazardous to the workplace. Casias unloaded trucks for Wal-Mart.
"I'd be concerned from an occupational hazard standpoint," said Dr. Martin Makary, associate professor of Health Policy at Johns Hopkins University. "I think this individual could drop or mishandle or lose control of the box because of their impaired mind-altered judgment. The job would really need to require no judgment of any kind. No coordination, no technical judgment or no thinking skills in order to argue it would be safe in the workplace."
On the other hand, Makary says that if a person used medical marijuana or Cannabis on a Friday night and went to work on Sunday, they wouldn't be impaired on the job.
Would the situation have turned out differently if Casias had told Wal-Mart about his treatment? Casias says he thought the treatment was between him and his doctor. And why didn't Wal-Mart use its discretion to take into account the fact that someone who apparently was a pretty good worker, earning the honor of Associate of the Year in 2008, was taking the marijuana for medicinal purposes? The company, after all, did not point out any issues with his performance at the time of his termination.
Michigan attorney Michael Komorn, who has represented several clients in medical marijuana cases and does for the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, says that Wal-Mart made a specific choice to single out Casias for exercising his free will in compliance with the law.
"It's offensive. It's uncompassionate. The guy's got cancer and you fire him."
While Michigan law protects any employer's right to terminate for marijuana use, the law also states that a qualifying patient who has been issued and possesses a registry identification card shall not be subject to penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege or disciplinary action by a business for medical marijuana use.
Komorn believes citizens who use medical marijuana in Michigan and elsewhere encounter all kinds problems with law enforcement and mainstream society because of the stigma that society places on marijuana use.
"Wal-Mart, this great outlet, has embraced the stigma of marijuana," he said. "There's a transition phase that we're going through that involves people adjusting their view and reaction to marijuana."
Komorn says the Michigan statute covering medical marijuana is written in such a way that there is conflict. An employer may have existing contracts that say it can terminate the employee for marijuana use. In a landlord/tenant agreement, a landlord could say he doesn't allow marijuana on the premises. And, a patient who is operating a vehicle with marijuana in his system can still be convicted of driving under the influence.
Komorn had hoped the conflicts would be resolved through litigation, and he got his wish with the ACLU announcing Tuesday they had filed a law suit.
"In order to protect patients there has to be an evolution in thinking," he said.