Colorado Supreme Court rules companies can fire employees for using marijuana

Danielle Haynes
Marijuana/cannabis. Photo by Atomazul/Shutterstock.
Marijuana/cannabis. Photo by Atomazul/Shutterstock.

DENVER, June 15 (UPI) -- Even though marijuana was legalized in Colorado, it hasn't been at the federal level, therefore companies may fire employees for using the substance, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday.

Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient, was fired in 2010 from his job as a telephone operator for Dish Network after testing positive for the drug. Dish never suggested Coats had worked stoned or used marijuana on the job, but dismissed him because of its no-tolerance policy for drugs.


Coats' lawyers argued that Colorado law states it is illegal for workers to be terminated for participating in lawful activities off the job.

A trial court and a court of appeals dismissed the claim, siding with Dish Network that medical marijuana use isn't a "lawful activity" covered by the termination law.

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The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the earlier decisions.

"The supreme court holds that under the plain language of ... Colorado's 'lawful activities statute,' the term 'lawful' refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law," the panel of judges wrote in their opinion. "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."


A statement on Coats' lawyer's website said the ruling, though "devastating" for them, was important because there was previously no clear legal precedent for how a company could handle an employee who uses medical marijuana.

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"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 a 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."

Brandon Coats v. Dish Network

Kristen Butler contributed to this report.

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