Supreme Court: Off Duty Marijuana Use in Colorado Considered Grounds for Firing

In Colorado, it appears as though corporate law supersedes state law. Brandon Coats has been a quadriplegic for nearly a decade. He lost all use of his lower limbs and most functionality of his upper limbs in a car accident. On a daily basis, he has to endure violent, uncontrollable, muscle spasms in his limbs. As a result, Coats, a lifelong resident of Colorado, smokes marijuana to control his muscle spasms, a treatment that has been well documented. Many patients find medical marijuana as a reliable solution for alleviating uncontrollable and debilitating muscle tremors. Some patients with severe spastic conditions go as far as claiming that medical marijuana keeps them alive.

Coats, a registered patient for medical marijuana in the state of Colorado, was dismissed from his job with Dish Network after failing to pass a random drug test. On the day that he was called to the Human Resources office, Coats, who is forever confined to a wheelchair, openly informed the department that he smoked medical marijuana and presented his patient ID card. He underwent a cotton swab test and as expected, failed. Two weeks after the test, Coats arrived to work and was relieved of his duties as a customer service representative.

Brandon Coats hired an attorney and went on to challenge the Douglas County policy, claiming that he was well within his rights to smoke medical marijuana. According to the Denver Post, his firing had been upheld in both trial court and the Colorado Court of Appeals.

On Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that employer’s zero-tolerance drug policies undermine Colorado’s medical marijuana laws. In essence, the court decided that employees who smoke medical marijuana that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law aren’t protected under the state’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute. According to the justices, that statute refers to activities under both state and federal law.

The issue had long been a gray area among states where marijuana is legal. There had never been guidance policies up to this point concerning the way that companies handle employees who smoke marijuana and work in states where it is legal.

Despite losing the case with the Supreme Court, Coats remains optimistic for creating a voice against the issue. He feels that this is only the beginning for the issue and eventually, a balanced policy will allows those in need of medical cannabis to work freely without fear of being fired.

“I feel the case has brought out the issue into the light. It’s made it an issue because it is an issue. We’re the ones who brought it out into light,” expressed Coats.

Legislature in Colorado now faces the challenge of creating a standard policy that creates balance for drug testing policies. Although the Supreme Court Ruling was upheld, multiple employers in Colorado are actively omitting THC from pre-employment drug testing. As a result, the market may dictate a policy shift in the future.  The Brandon Coats case can certainly be presented before legislature in order to create a policy that protects patients in critical need of medical marijuana.

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