Despite the fact that marijuana is legal in Colorado for both medicinal and recreational purposes, the state Supreme Court announced today that employees could still be fired for using the substance – even after hours.
After much anticipation, the state’s highest court handed down a unanimous decision of 6-0 early Monday morning, after spending several months reviewing the case of Brandon Coats vs. Dish Network. Coats, a quadriplegic who takes medical marijuana for back spasms, was terminated from his position with the company in 2010 after a random drug test revealed THC in his system.
The company used its zero-tolerance drug policy to support their decision, but Coats, whose use of medical marijuana is authorized under state law, decided to fight them. Unfortunately, two separate courts upheld the company’s decision to terminate him.
Once the case hit the Supreme Court, however, legal experts suggested the outcome could have a dramatic impact on the drug free workplace as it pertains to marijuana. After all, the decision would undoubtedly set of precedent for other legal states – perhaps forcing employers all over the nation to reexamine their rules against cannabis.
The justices were charged with illuminating whether the use of medical marijuana, a legal activity, was a violation of Colorado’s Lawful Off-Duty Statute.
Siding with the idea that federal law prevails over state, Justice Allison H. Eid wrote that since medical marijuana “is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law,” its use is “not protected by the statute.”
“There is no exception for marijuana use for medicinal purposes, or for marijuana use conducted in accordance with state law,” the justices wrote.
The Supreme Court explained that their decision would not force a new law, but rather, it would leave the decision of marijuana use up to the individual employer.
Unfortunately, since Colorado law does not force companies to relax their policies against the use of marijuana, the consensus is that more people will continue to lose their jobs as a result of using a legal substance.
After the verdict, Coats said that at least some clarity had been brought to the issue – legal marijuana will not be protected until the federal government changes its policies.
“Although I’m very disappointed today, I hope that my case has brought the issue of use of medical marijuana and employment to light,” said Coats.
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