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Medical Marijuana user appeals termination in Colorado Supreme Court.

Summary: Marijuana has always been a polarizing topic in the United States, and while citizens have warmed to the idea that it can be useful for ...

Marijuana has always been a polarizing topic in the United States, and while citizens have warmed to the idea that it can be useful for medical treatment, its acceptance is far from universal. Now, with different levels of prohibition at federal and state levels, the clarity on prohibition is murkier than ever, especially in the workplace.

A call for more clarity recently came to the forefront in Colorado, where, despite recreational and medical legalization, workers can still be dismissed subject to workplace policies on smoking weed. On Sept 30 a Colorado Supreme Court heard appeal arguments from a worker who was fired for using marijuana despite having state medical clearance to do so. The case could have considerable repercussions on the policies on marijuana use that multi-state corporations can adopt.

According to Reuters, the appeal was brought by Brandon Coats, who had been cleared to use marijuana to treat muscle pain following a car accident that left him without the use of his limbs. A former customer service representative for Dish Network, Coats was terminated after he tested positive for marijuana in a company-mandated drug test. Coats claims that his termination was a violation of state law, which protects employees from engaging from "lawful" activities when not on the clock.


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The problem, of course, is that, while the use of medicinal marijuana was legal in the state of Colorado at the time of Coats' dismissal, it was and still is a federally prohibited substance. The case shows the challenge for employers who must navigate both state and federal mandates pertaining to the use of the drug.

When asked by the judge why the state protection of "lawful" activity should not include federal law, Coat's attorney Michael Evans said, "When the Colorado legislature intends to include federal law, it does so expressly."

However, attorneys from Dish Network argue that regardless of state law, or questions surrounding the virtues of medical marijuana, it has the right to maintain a "zero tolerance" drug use policy. Dish argued that, given the difficulty of determining impairment as it relates to marijuana, it would be nearly impossible for them to enforce in any way other than its current testing methods.

"What do you do if the employer and the employee don't agree about the level of impairment?" asked Meghan Martinez, an attorney for Dish.

Coats has an uphill battle, with California, Montana and Washington previously ruling in favor of defendants in other medical marijuana workplace battles.

Regardless of the public perception of the use of medical marijuana, until the federal prohibition on its use is lifted, this is an area the employers will want to continue to watch. With discrimination and disabilities claims against companies always a top priority, one could see a ruling in favor of the plaintiff having ramifications on the broad institution of "zero tolerance" drug policies in the workplace.

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Publication:Inside Counsel
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Oct 1, 2014
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