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Employers Have Right to Fire Medical Marijuana Users
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Brandon Coats

Summary: The use of medical marijuana is not lawful under federal law so the state statutes meant to protect people for similar activities do not apply. Medical marijuana is legal in nearly half of the United States but there is no legal protection for employment. Colorado legalized marijuana medical and recreational use but there is no protection under the “lawful activities statute” since marijuana use is still considered illegal under federal law. The state statute only considers activities that are lawful under both federal and state laws as protected. Employees that use marijuana for medical reasons are then not protected by any state laws preventing them from discrimination for their drug use.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that quadriplegic Brandon Coats’ termination from Disk Network five years ago was legal. Coats uses a small amount of marijuana each night at home to suppress seizures throughout his body. He had no disciplinary problems at work and was a top employee at Dish Network for three years before he was fired. Coats first went to court in 2011 over the company’s decision to fire him after failing the drug test. The court dismissed the case since medical marijuana is not a “lawful activity”. He appealed the decision at the state appellate court but that court upheld the original decision. The judge stated that federal laws have priority over state laws.


The attorney for both sides focused the arguments on what use of medical marijuana is “lawful” outside the workplace and how the use can be considered lawful when it is not legal under federal law. Coats’ attorney, Michael Evans argued that his client should be protected under the state’s “Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statue” since there was never evidence or claims that Coats used marijuana at work.

Michael Evans

Michael Evans

Dish knew he was on the medical marijuana registry but their rules that when an employee fails a drug test, they are terminated. The amount or kind of THC in the system does not matter for Dish. Inactive forms of THC can remain in the body for over 40 days after the initial use. Dish Network’s attorney, Meghan Martinez argued that any amount of THC in the system shows “use” and when he went to work with it in his body, he was “using” at work, impairment does not matter.

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Meghan Martinez

Meghan Martinez

Evans says that until a House or Senate member take on the issue, employees that use medical marijuana will still be left vulnerable to losing their jobs.

Do you think this case will drive the change for medical marijuana user protection? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below the article.





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