Court Rules Employers Can Fire MMJ-Prescribed Workers for Off-Duty Use

Legal
Court Rules Employers Can Fire MMJ-Prescribed Workers for Off-Duty Use

PHOTO: KATHRYN SCOTT OSLER/PRESS POOL

Remember Brandon Coats, the quadriplegic Colorado man who was fired from his job at Dish Network for testing positive for weed, even though he was a medical marijuana patient? Well, the Colorado Supreme Court reached a decision this morning in his lawsuit — and it’s not great.

The court ruled 6-0 that employers can lawfully fire employees for using marijuana outside of work hours, even if the drug is legal in the state, and even if the employee in question is a state-approved medical marijuana patient. This decision upholds two lower court decisions on the issue, proving yet again that though the majority of Americans support medical marijuana, federal law is still drastically behind on the subject. (Schedule I, anyone?)

Coats’ case hedged on the Colorado statute which states that an employer cannot fire a worker for engaging in a “lawful” activity outside of work hours — in this case, the lawful activity being Coats’ use of prescribed medical marijuana to cope with seizures brought on by his condition as a quadriplegic. However, the court disagreed, saying employers should be allowed to maintain a drug-free workplace and that Dish Network did not violate Colorado’s ‘lawful activities statute’ by firing Coats.

“The term ‘lawful’ refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law,” the decision read. “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.”

In a statement, Coats responded to the verdict.

“Although I’m very disappointed today, I hope that my case has brought the issue of use of medical marijuana and employment to light,” Coats said. “If we’re making marijuana legal for medical purposes, we need to address issues that come along with it, such as employment. Hopefully views on medical marijuana — like the ones in my specific case — will change soon.”