The question answered unanimously on Monday June 15th by the Colorado Supreme Court: can an employer fire a worker for using medical marijuana off-duty since it is legally permitted in the state of Colorado? Yes it can.
After attorneys on both sides debated the topic heavily in late September, no firm opinion was given by Colorado’s highest court justices. Colorado’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statue protects employees’ off-duty use of medical marijuana, yet many companies execute random drug testing with zero tolerance policies which are protected at the federal level.
What appeared to be a relatively simple question to answer may now cause a legal ripple effect which Colorado lawmakers are unsure how to deal with. Should employees be allowed to use medical marijuana while on the job? Is medical marijuana lawful since state law and federal law currently disagree? The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that regardless of state laws, in the eyes of the federal government, the use of medical marijuana while on the job or off-duty is a terminating offense.
This decision has received national attention as an example of the deep divide between state and federal views on the use of medical marijuana. Monday’s ruling conveniently ignores Colorado’s thriving recreational marijuana trade and strictly focused on the use of medical marijuana. Under Colorado state law, it is considered discriminatory “for an employer to terminate the employment of any employee due to that employee’s engaging in any lawful activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours.”
For Dish Network employee Brandon Coats, that lawful activity was the use of medical marijuana. Coats, a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair since his teens, was randomly given a drug test in 2010 and tested positive for THC. Brandon Coats had been issued a medical marijuana prescription in 2009 which stemmed his claim that his termination violated Colorado state law.
The Colorado Supreme Court Ruling conveniently side-stepped admitting Coats’ claim that his use of medical marijuana was legal on a state level by simply ruling his use of marijuana could not be considered lawful at all because it is illegal on the federal level.
A dejected Brandon Coats was quoted as stating, “Although I’m very disappointed today, I hope that my case has brought the issue of use of medical marijuana and employment to light.” His former employer, Dish Network promptly praised the decision and reaffirmed its commitment to a drug-free workplace.
Stoners everywhere are reacting negatively to this news. The spotlight is on the federal government more than ever to change its outdated view on marijuana use. Will this issue play out in the coming 2016 presidential election? With almost 15% of Americans admitting to smoking pot on a daily basis, it just may.