Testing users and the law 

A Kalispell man may be the first in the country to test an employer’s right to fire workers who use state-sanctioned medical marijuana.

According to Flathead District Court documents, Mike Johnson tested positive for marijuana use during a random drug screening at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company (CFAC) in July of 2006.

In August of that year, according to court documents filed by CFAC, the company gave Johnson a chance to come back on the condition that he submit to, and pass, more drug tests. Johnson declined and was fired, ending 25 years of employment at the Columbia Falls smelter.

Johnson has since filed a wrongful discharge suit against the company, alleging he was fired without just cause.

Johnson, his lawyer, and lawyers for CFAC declined to speak with the Independent about the case.

The court has set a pretrial conference for Oct. 22. Should Johnson’s suit pitting medical marijuana laws against company drug policies go to trial, it will apparently be the first case of its kind, says Dan Bernath of the Marijuana Policy Project—the group which supported the ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana in Montana.

But Bernath notes that earlier this year the Oregon legislature considered four separate bills on the subject—two that allowed employers to fire medical marijuana users, and two that prohibited such actions.

All four laws died in committee.

Bernath’s group strongly opposes what he calls “discrimination” against medical marijuana users.

“It doesn’t make any sense to us that a worker could be discriminated against for using medicine that is completely legal,” says Bernath. “I find it shocking that this even comes up. It seems pretty clear to us that this ought to be treated like any other medicine. If the state law protects it, there shouldn’t even be a question about it.”

Bernath believes allowing employers to fire workers for use of state-sanctioned medical marijuana is an end run around the will of Montana’s voters, 62 percent of whom passed the state’s medical marijuana law in 2004.

Should Johnson’s case go to trial, Bernath says it could be an important test case that decides how protective Montana’s medical marijuana law is.
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