In the case of Brandon Coats vs. Dish Network, a quadriplegic with medical authorization to use medical marijuana, was fired by Dish Network in 2010 after he failed a company drug test. The ruling marks a victory for employers with a zero tolerance drug policy.
[COLORADO – June 29, 2015] – The Colorado Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that employees can be fired who use medical marijuana, even though medical marijuana use is legal in the state. The recent ruling upheld Dish Network's firing of Brandon Coats for smoking marijuana outside of work. The ruling is a victory for employers wanting to reinforce the principles of a drug-free workplace.
In the case Brandon Coats vs. Dish Network L.L.C., the former telephone customer service representative for Englewood, Colorado-based Dish Network argued that he was wrongfully terminated back in 2010 for using medical marijuana outside of his workplace. Coats is a quadriplegic. When he was 16 years old, he was a passenger in a vehicle that crashed into a tree. The accident left him paralyzed in over 80 percent of his body. As a result, he has suffered from severe involuntary muscle spasms and seizures ever since. Coats had a doctors medical authorization to use medical marijuana, claims to have never used the drug while at work, and presented that he was never under the influence of marijuana while at work. Though marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2000 and Dish Network did not dispute “non-use claims”, Coats was fired by Dish Network after failing a company drug test. Colorado is one of 24 jurisdictions that have legalized medical marijuana. Colorado is also one of five jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Dish Network stands by their zero-tolerance drug policy, citing that medical marijuana is still illegal on the federal level. As such, Dish Network adamantly says the use of marijuana for any reason, including authorized medical use, is cause for termination. The issue at hand is the conflicting legality that is presented between the state and the federal law. Though marijuana is legal on the state level, it is not on the federal level, which causes confusion and conflict for many. There is a law in Colorado that protects employees from being terminated for lawful activities, however in the Supreme Court ruling, the court cites that the law refers only to activities which are legal 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," said the court's decision. The court further found that even though Colorado has legalized marijuana for recreational use that businesses may still bar marijuana use by their employees.
The court’s decision can have broader legal implications for other states as they move to legalize marijuana use for recreational and/or medical use, as it is still illegal on the federal level. The case has the ability to set a precedent for other states as the states lawful acts statutes are being trumped by the federal law. Thought this case is based as a Colorado decision, the court’s decision brings to light the discrepancy and issues involved with the lawful use of medical marijuana and employers rights. In essence, medical marijuana patients who legal use it for medical purposes actually do not have the right to use it. For those prescribed marijuana legally for medical purposed, the issues and clear discrepancies need to be presented and addressed by state legislature to provide protections to those with medical needs.