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Employee Fired for Off-Hours MMJ Use Heads to Colorado Supreme Court

Brandon Coats, right, waits for the proceedings to begin with his mother Donna Scharfenberg sitting by his side.
Brandon Coats, right, waits for the proceedings to begin with his mother Donna Scharfenberg sitting by his side. (Photo by Kathryn Scott Osler)

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Employee Fired for Off-Hours MMJ Use Heads to Colorado Supreme Court

A landmark case involving the termination of an employee for the use of medical marijuana was recently heard before the Colorado Supreme Court. While the Denver Post reports that the ruling on the issue may take weeks, the court’s decision could have widespread implications in terms of an employee’s right to use medical marijuana while off-duty.

The case involves Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient who was fired from his job at Dish Network in 2010. Last year, a Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that state-licensed medical cannabis use was not “lawful activity,” as it would also need to comply with federal law which doesn’t allow cannabis use in any form. Coats argued that he was never under the influence of marijuana at work and should be protected by the Colorado’s Lawful Activities Statute. While subject to exceptions, the state statute prohibits an employer from discharging an employee for “engaging in any lawful activity off premises of the employer during nonworking hours.”

The case heard before the Colorado Supreme Court will determine if cannabis — which is available both medically and for adult-use in Colorado — is “lawful” even though it remains prohibited by federal law.  A regular cannabis user’s urine will test positive for weeks after use, NORML explains, while also noting urine testing can’t test a person’s impairment as it doesn’t measure cannabis’ psychoactive component, THC.

“Mr. Coats was never accused or suspected of being under the influence and received satisfactory performance reviews all three years,” Coats’ attorney Michael Evans said in court. “He was fired after an unknown type or amount of THC was found after a mouth swab test. Dish knew he was a medical marijuana patient. The mere presence of THC is not proof of impairment.”

What do you think? Should employee’s be fired for using cannabis off the clock? Tell us in the comments below.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Kelly Grimes

    October 16, 2014 at 8:15 am

    no you should not be fired for off work activities as long as it is not affect your work performance orthe safety of people around you

  2. Eric

    October 16, 2014 at 1:06 am

    Never heard of a mouth swab test being used for testing. If the NFL, doesn’t use mouth swab testing for marijuana, it’s probably an unreliable test for the actual amount of THC in the body, only that it’s there.
    That being said there is no denial by Brandon that that he used. If Dish knew he used marijuana, and continued to let him work there, well this is indeed interesting. This means that management at the place where he worked was fine with it. Brandon was obviously truthful about his use and upfront about it. This means that management (local) was probably keeping an eye on him for problems with productivity or being intoxicated in the work place. Upper management at the top, people not even located anywhere near Denver got word of his use. They probably said, test him and fire him, as this behavior is against our company policy.

    Sorry for the wall of text here.

    One would have to ask, were the local managers fired for not enforcing company policy and allowing Brandon to continue on with his employment while not enforcing company policy? While companies do have a right to promote a certain image and fire people for almost any reason, one would have to ask if this firing was not a performance based issue or poor customer service, only a firing due to to the use of marijuana which is completely legal on a State level, there is certainly a case here.

    It will be very interesting to see where this case goes. Personally I’m against testing for marijuana in the work place. It should be up to local management to see how an employee is performing and if he is coming to work really high or drunk, obviously that employee won’t last long and you don’t need drug tests to find those people.

  3. Robert

    October 4, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    In my opinion NO!!! Someone should not be fired from there job if they have the right to smoke either medically or recreationally in the privacy of there own home. For instance it is legal to drink alcohol which causes more deaths, car accidents, bar fights lose of motor function do to to much consumption, and its ok to do that after work and not worry about the consequences if they hurt themselves on the job the next day at work unless they are still intoxicated, but if they smoke some weed that has proven medical properties at home after work and go to work the next day and hurt themselves they have to worry about getting fired do to having THC in there system from the night before.which makes no sense at all due to a person who smokes weed the night before they go to work the next day is no longer high and they function normally.

  4. Michel Beaulieu

    October 3, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    No,because there is no definitive test as of yet that can tell exactly when a person used it last which could be anywhere from a few minutes prior to testing to two weeks or more ago.

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