Let’s Teach WalMart A Lesson About Medical Marijuana

It’s always fascinating to watch corporations flail about cluelessly while society is in the throes of epochal change.  One has to go no farther than Starbucks for an example; their recent crash course in societal change involved incurring the wrath of marijuana users, as it turns out a sizeable portion of their target demographic.  Starbucks only took a couple of days to come around after pot users threatened a national boycott after spotting the coffee giant’s logo on a virulently extremist anti-marijuana website.

Huge behemoths like Starbucks and WalMart exercise their corporate policies with the implicit assumption that American society as a whole is in their corner, philosophically speaking.  Playing the middle of the road is just smart business, after all. Nobody gets rich by alienating huge groups of consumers.

But the interesting thing about social change is that sometimes the corporations get left in the dust. Starbucks was careful to make sure that didn’t happen; I’m betting WalMart may not be so smart, if its atrocious labor policies are an accurate marker.

During these periods of rapid and dizzying change – a perfect and current example being the huge shift in American attitudes toward marijuana — major corporations often reveal themselves to be big, dumb, lumbering beasts.  That was exactly what WalMart, notorious for its corporate stance of social conservatism, looked like this week when it summarily sacked a cancer patient who had been “Associate of the Year” for using medical marijuana with his doctor’s recommendation – in Michigan, a state where that is perfectly legal.  WalMart, so far at least, hasn’t budged. But the wave of revulsion and outrage over their treatment of Associate of the Year Joseph Casias hasn’t crested yet, and it’s going to get a lot bigger before it does.

For now, WalMart seems completely oblivious that what just a few years ago was solid political ground under its feet is simply no longer there.  The ritual corporate shaming of marijuana and its users – extending even to legal, medical users – is now so disconnected from science, medicine and mass perception that we can only watch in horror as companies like WalMart mistreat employees, fully confident they’ll get away with it “just like they always have.”

This moralistic and intolerant stance towards medical marijuana patients flies in the face of modern American sensibilities. More than 80 percent of Americans now support the medicinal use of pot.

Casias worked at the WalMart store in Battle Creek, Michigan, for five years, winning employee of the year in 2008 despite suffering from sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor.  At the recommendation of his doctor, Casias began using medical marijuana to ease his pain. “It helps tremendously,” Casias said. “I only use it to stop the pain. To make me feel more comfortable and active as a person.”  Then he sprained he knee at work last November.

During the routine drug screening that follows all workplace injuries, marijuana was detected in his system.  Casias showed WalMart managers his Michigan medical marijuana card, but was fired anyway.  “I was told they do not accept or honor my medical marijuana card,” Casias said.

Casias said he had never shown up at work after smoking pot. “No, I never came to work under the influence, ever,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair. Because I have a medical condition I can’t work and provide for my family?”

WalMart was completely unapologetic. “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,” said WalMart spokesman Greg Rossiter from company headquarters.  “We believe our policy complies with the law, and we support decisions based on the policy,” Rossiter said.

Casias has been collecting unemployment compensation since getting sacked in November, but this week he got more bad news: Now WalMart is even challenging his eligibility for benefits.  So how do you teach a big, dumb beast? You hurt it in the only way it understands.

It’s time to teach WalMart that mistreating medical marijuana patients isn’t just dumb and cruel; it is also very, very bad for business.  The national WalMart boycott by medical marijuana supporters begins in 5… 4… 3…

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