While medical marijuana is legal in Colorado, employers can still fire patients for using it – even if they aren’t impaired at work. In a landmark decision Monday morning, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient from Colorado who was fired by Dish Network in 2010 for using the drug while at home and off-duty, was not protected under the state’s “lawful activities statute.”
“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 in an emailed statement. “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.”
The arguments from both Dish’s and Coats’ attorneys centered on the question of what exactly constitutes “lawful” use of medical marijuana outside of the workplace – and how such use can be considered lawful when federal law still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance, even though the state of Colorado has legalized its use both medically and recreationally.
“The Supreme Court holds that under…Colorado’s ‘lawful activities statute,’ the term ‘lawful’ refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law,” the Colorado court ruled. “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.”
Coats’ attorney, Michael Evans, said: “Today’s decision means that until someone in the House or Senate champions the cause, most employees who work in a state with the world’s most powerful medical marijuana laws will have to choose between using medical marijuana and work.”