retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Grand Rapids Press reports that Walmart is facing some criticism - and even some calls for a boycott - over the decision to fire a 29-year-old cancer patient who tested positive for marijuana while working for the company at a Battle Creek, Michigan, store.

According to the story, the employee was a registered medical marijuana user who tested positive “during a worker's compensation screening after he sprained his knee on the job.”

In a statement, Walmart said, “In states, such as Michigan, where prescriptions for marijuana can be obtained, an employer can still enforce a policy that requires termination of employment following a positive drug screen. We believe our policy complies with the law and we support decisions based on the policy." The company also reportedly is contesting the employee’s attempt to claim unemployment benefits on the grounds that “any marijuana use still is a violation of federal law, even if states are allowing it in some cases.”

Walmart’s position is being disputed by a number of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which argues that it is “immoral and it's illegal to fire somebody for treating their disease with a medicine that's legal and recommended by someone's physician."
KC's View:
The paper makes the excellent point that this is probably just the beginning of what will be an ongoing debate about this particular drug use by employees. I understand that Walmart and a lot of other companies probably will feel hemmed in by what they think of as traditional values, and will not be accommodating.

However, I have to say that I think Walmart is wrong on this one. I think when you have an employee suffering from cancer, you do everything possible to make their situation tenable.

My mom died of cancer a little over 12 years ago. It started with lung cancer, brought on by 40 years of smoking. (She’d actually managed to quit after numerous agonizing and failed attempts and hadn’t had a cigarette for five years when she had her first seizure, caused because the cancer had spread to her brain.) A tough broad, my mom managed to survive for about four years before finally passing away...and at any point during those extraordinarily tough years, had she wanted and had access to medical marijuana, I would have fully endorsed her use of it.

I understand laws. I understand traditions. But how do you say no to someone who is suffering? How do you take away their ability to support themselves and have access to health insurance at the most vulnerable point in their lives?