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article imageColorado Supreme Court: Businesses can fire for medical marijuana

By Alex Ritman     Jun 28, 2015 in Politics
The Colorado Supreme Court delivered a victory for business owners and anti-drug advocates in its Coats vs. Dish Network.
The Court affirmed a lower court ruling made in 2013 that while medical marijuana may be legal, employers have the right to terminate workers who use the drug.
The case’s controversy does not come just from the continued debate over the legality of medical marijuana in Colorado, like many other states, possesses a “lawful activities” statute which dictates that companies may not fire their workers for committing lawful acts during their own hours.
For example, a controversial case in Colorado in 2005 involved a worker charged with distributing Budweisers. He was fired for drinking a Coors beer during his off hours, which resulted in a lawsuit.
In this case, plaintiff Brandon Coats is a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair who was prescribed medical marijuana to handle pain issues. Coats failed a drug test by his employer Dish Network and was subsequently fired. He responded by suing the company and argued that since medical marijuana use is legal under Colorado law, the “lawful activities” statute prevented Dish Network from firing him.
The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed with Coats’s argument based on the definition of “lawful.” While Coats argued that “lawful” only applied to activities made legal under Colorado state law, the Supreme Court noted that “Nothing in the language of the statute limits the term ‘lawful’ to state law.” Instead, the Court held that “lawful” applied to activities legal under both Colorado and federal laws.
Since medical marijuana is not allowed federally, the Court held that Dish Network had every right to fire Coats and hold to a zero tolerance marijuana policy. This decision was reached unanimously.
Dish Network was supported by other employers like the Colorado Mining Association, which filed an amicus brief. The Mining Association argued that safety-sensitive jobs like mining needed a zero tolerance policy in order to ensure the safety of its equipment and workers.
While Coats may be out of a job, the issue of smoking marijuana in off hours will continue to remain contentious as the push for legalization continues.
More about Medical Marijuana, Marijuana, Employment law
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