In a decision that could set the precedent for how other states decide to treat medical marijuana patients in the workplace, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled yesterday that companies are allowed to fire their employees for using medical marijuana off the job, even though pot is legal in the state. The reason: cannabis is still federally illegal.
According to an article in Yahoo, the ruling came back 6-0, with one justice sitting out the case. The decision confirmed two lower-court decisions that ruled against Brandon Coats. Coats is a quadriplegic who was fired in 2010 from his job as a Dish Network customer service representative after he tested positive for marijuana. The company claimed that Coats’ use of pot violated its “zero tolerance” anti-drug policy, even if he was using the drug while off-duty.
In 2011, Coats sued Dish for wrongful termination, claiming that there was a state law that protected employees from being fired for “engaging in lawful activities outside the workplace.” Coats admitted he uses marijuana in accordance with state law and has a state-issued medical marijuana card to treat painful muscle spasms he suffers from a car accident that left him paralyzed and wheelchair-bound.
The state Supreme Court ruled decided that federal law classifies marijuana as an illegal narcotic and that overpowers Colorado’s medical marijuana statute when it comes down to defining a “lawful” activity protected from employer sanctions.
The court’s decision said, “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 (state) statute.”
Yahoo spoke with Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project and he seemed optimistic that other states won’t follow in the footsteps of the Colorado Supreme Court. Instead, he thinks that the “culture is ahead of the law, and the law is bound to eventually catch up.”