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Friday, April 26, 2013

Colorado Appeals court says medical marijuana users can be fired

By: Tommy Eden, Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP

Brandon Coats, 33, a telephone operator for Dish Network was paralyzed in a car crash as a teenager and has been a medical marijuana patient in Colorado since 2009. In 2010 Brandon was fired for failing a company drug test, even thought Dish didn't claim he was ever impaired on the job.
Coats sued to get his job back, but 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 behavior off the clock.

While medical and recreational marijuana may be legal in Colorado, an employer in the state can lawfully fire workers who test positive for off duty use. Coats v. Dish Network, (Co. Court of Appeals April 25, 2013)

The Colorado Court of Appeals found there is no employment protection for medical marijuana users in the state since the drug remains illegal by the federal government. The Court held in a 2-1 decision that: "For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law."

Similar cases in Calif and Washington State have held likewise when businesses attempt to regulate pot use among employees in states where the drug is legal. Colorado and Washington state law both allow for recreational marijuana use. 17 other states have legalized medical use.

With this ruling, employees who use pot in Colorado do so at their own risk. In Arizona, however, workers cannot be terminated for lawfully using medical marijuana, unless it would jeopardize an employer's federal licensing or contracts. There is a confusing patchwork of statutes across the nation.

Tommy Eden is an attorney with Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP, member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law, East Alabama SHRM Board of Directors Tommy can be contacted at or 334-246-2901.

Coats v. Dish Network, LLC