Colorado Supreme Court Employers Can Fire Workers For Off-Duty Medical Marijuana Use

In the case of a quadriplegic who was fired from Dish Network in 2010 after he failed a company drug test because he was using marijuana for medicinal purposes, Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled, 6-0, on Monday that employers can fire workers for off-duty marijuana use, even though the substance is legal in the state.

Brandon Coats, the plaintiff in the case, became quadriplegic in a car accident and used marijuana to control leg spasms. He told the Denver Post that he was hired as a customer service representative for Dish Network in 2007, but was fired in 2010 after a random drug test, even though he had a medical marijuana card.

Coats said he was called in for a random drug test in 2010, and that he warned Human Resources that he would not pass the test. When the results came back negative, Coats said that he told his manager he had a medical marijuana card, and his manager said this was a circumstance the company had never seen.

Coats said that he continued to work with Dish Network for two more weeks, before the company notified him that he was being terminated for using marijuana, even though he was in possession of a license.

While Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use following the passage of Amendment 64 in Nov. 2012, medical marijuana use was passed in Nov. 2000, and required that users obtain a Medical Marijuana Registry Identification Card.

In the ruling from Colorado’s Supreme Court, Justice Allison H. Eid wrote that businesses can terminate employees for using marijuana, because even though it is legal under state law, it is still illegal under federal law:

[quote_center]Therefore, employees who engage in an activity, such as medical marijuana use, that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute[/quote_center].

The ruling also stated that the Court was declining Coats’ invitation to “engraft a state law limitation onto the statutory language.”

“Nothing in the language of the statute limits the term ‘lawful’ to state law,” wrote Eid. “Instead, the term is used in its general, unrestricted sense, indicating that a ‘lawful’ activity is that which complies with applicable ‘law,’ including state and federal law.”

Michael Evans, Coats’ attorney, told the Denver Post that he thought the decision was “devastating.”

[quote_center]“You need the Colorado Supreme Court to stand up for its own laws,” Evans said. “The U.S. Supreme Court is not going to do that.”[/quote_center]

In Sept. 2014, investigative journalist Ben Swann released an episode of the Truth in Media Project that documented the federal government’s involvement with marijuana. He revealed that although the government claimed cannabis cannot be used as medicine, it holds the patent on cannabis as medicine.

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