Employers in Colorado, United States can now lawfully fire workers who test positive for the marijuana, even if it was used off duty, according to a court ruling Thursday. This applies to both medical and recreational uses of the drug.
Colorado Court of Appeals found there is no employment protection for medical marijuana users in the state since the drug remains barred by the federal government. “For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law,” the appeals court stated in its 2-1 conclusion.
Employees who smoke pot in Colorado must do so at their own risk. The marijuana and job debate came to pass when a Colorado case involving Brandon Coats, 33, a telephone operator for Englewood, Colorado-based Dish Network LLC. Coats, who was paralyzed in a car crash as a teenager and has been a medical marijuana patient in the state since 2009 was fired in 2010 for failing a company drug test, though his employer didn’t claim he was ever impaired on the job.
Coats made an attempt to sue Dish Network to get his job back but came up short when a trial court dismissed his claim in 2011. The judge agreed with Dish Network that medical marijuana use isn’t a “lawful activity” covered by a state law intended to protect cigarette smokers from being fired for legal behaviour off the clock. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than half of all states have such laws.
After the disappointing dismissal, Coats’ Attorney, Michael Evans, gave a broader perspective on the matter. “This case not only impacts Mr. Coats, but also some 127,816 medical marijuana patient-employees in Colorado who could be summarily terminated even if they are in legal compliance with Colorado state law.”
Marijuana supporters are feeling a bit ostracized because Colorado’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities law, the provision protecting cigarette smokers, prevents workers from being fired for legal behaviour off the clock
Coats told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he obtained a prescription for medical marijuana to deal with debilitating muscle spasms that would otherwise prevent him from working. He has been looking for a job ever since being dismissed by Dish.
“I’m not going to get better anytime soon,” said Coats. “I need the marijuana, and I don’t want to go the rest of my life without holding a job.”
The courts are saying that lawmakers could act to change the law to protect people who use marijuana for medical reasons, but there have been no plans to do that at the state Capitol.