You Can Now Be Fired in Colorado for Using Medical Marijuana on Your Time Off

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Thanks to a landmark ruling in Colorado’s Supreme Court, there is new clarification to the state’s medical marijuana law—though employees may not like the news. If a workplace has a policy prohibiting drug use, workers who test positive for marijuana are not protected from termination—even if they are registered for medical use. In other words, you can be fired in Colorado for using marijuana during your time off.

This ruling comes after a lengthy legal battle for Brandon Coats, who was fired from Dish Network in 2010 when a random drug test detected the presence of THC. Because marijuana is permitted for both medical and recreational use in Colorado, Coats felt his doctor’s prescription would provide legal recourse under the state’s “Lawful Off-duty Activities Statute.” You Can Now Be Fired in Colorado for Using Medical Marijuana on Your Time Off

The court didn’t agree.

“The Supreme Court holds that under […] Colorado’s ‘lawful activities statute,’ the term ‘lawful’ refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. 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,” states the ruling.

At the heart of the case is the lingering presence of THC in a person’s body. Though it’s possible to have a negative test result in as few as four days for an infrequent user, THC can remain present in the system for well over a month with habitual use. Consequently, a positive test doesn’t prove impairment on the job.

“Mr. Coats was never accused or suspected of being under the influence and received satisfactory performance reviews all three years [of his employment],” asserted his attorney, Michael Evans before the state Supreme Court last year. “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.”

But to Dish Network and its zero-tolerance policy, “use”—not impairment—was the mitigating factor. Dish Network’s attorney Meghan Martinez argued, “We are alleging that he was using THC at the workplace. The definition of use is in the medical marijuana act. It’s the employment of something, the longstanding possession of something. He smoked marijuana while at home, but he crossed the threshold [to his office] with THC in his system. The use is the effects, it’s the THC, it’s the whole point of marijuana. So when he came to work, he was using.”

At 16 years old, Coats suffered a broken spinal cord in a car accident and is paralyzed over 80% of his body. He endured severe convulsions and spasms for years that prescription medication couldn’t effectively control. “Sometimes my whole body can just seize up,” he explained. Doctors eventually recommended marijuana and the result was dramatic—as it has been for many people for a variety of illnesses and injuries. After such positive results—coupled with legally sanctioned use in Colorado—the company’s decision to fire Coats seemed inexplicable to him.

Though Amendment 20, which legalized marijuana use in Colorado in 2000, states that employers aren’t required to “accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace,” it does not stipulate whether they have the right to terminate employees who partake while off-duty. Arizona is currently the only state that specifically prohibits firing registered users—as long as that job isn’t considered “safety sensitive.”

In an email to The Huffington Post about the ruling, Coats stated, “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.”

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Contributed by Claire Bernish of The Anti Media.

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  • It didn’t say whether the decision was by the SCOTUS or the Colorado Supreme Court.

  • And in other news, showing up drunk at work will get you fired as well. No big surprise here.

    • This is different because I could get fired even though I was completely sober. I use an equal amount of cannabis as my girl who needs to maintain critically high cannabinoid(THC/CBD) levels to beat her MS. Because my levels are so high, if I got a drug test right now it would come up positive and the numbers would be off the charts indicating that I am “super high” but I am completely sober right now and that is why this is unfair, unconstitutional discrimination. He would’ve been legally okay driving around on xanax all day as long as some quack gave him a note saying it’s cool but the probability of him making a critical mistake or killing somebody while driving are much higher on xanax but since the medical industry makes money off of xanax that concern only warrants a small sentence on a prescription bottle to warn you. WHAT A SCAM!

      • fair enough, I suppose my comment was directed more at those who thought recreational legalization of pot would give them the “right” to recreate wherever they choose, even at work. Since the article dealt primarily with medical THC, I missed the target with my comment. I’m sure, the “medical” use of pot or pot extracts will be justified with a simple doctors note as well regardless of actual need (I’m not denying its usefullnes or the need for some, but many, many others will abuse the justification, much like painkillers etc.)

        • Oh yeah there are plenty of morons out there that will screw it up for everybody. Just because you drink doesn’t mean you show up every day at your job drunk and likewise just because you use cannabis doesn’t mean that you walk into work every morning stoned… although some do… even both drunk and stoned, lol. With alcohol though you know the person has consumed recently, with cannabis you do not and that is what makes drugs tests for sobriety unfair.

  • Alcohol gets expelled form the body in 24hours quickly because it is a toxin. THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) stays in the body as long as possible because it is good for the human body. You are all being lied to, screwed, an enslaved. All just to make sure you don’t use it. They need you sick, they need customers.

  • Hey genius, if you consume cannabis you are not high for the 30days it shows up in your urine. He would have been much more of a liability to the company if he had gotten legally intoxicated on alcohol the night before. Knowledge is power and ignorance is bliss.