Colorado Court: Employers Have Right To Fire Employees for Smoking Marijuana

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Even though Colorado may be a pot-smoker’s haven, failing a drug test at work can still get employees fired.

A Colorado Court of Appeals ruling announced Thursday that there is no legal protection for employees who smoke medical marijuana because the drug is still outlawed by the federal government.

"For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law," the appeals court stated in its 2-1 conclusion.

The decision comes on the heels of the more widespread legalization of marijuana in states such as Colorado and Washington, and as employers are finding it increasingly difficult to punish high employees when they haven’t technically done anything illegal.

The appeals case involved a Colorado man named Brandon Coats, 33, and his former employer, Dish Network LLC. Coats, who was paralyzed in a crash when he was a teenager and now uses medical marijuana to help with muscle spasms, was fired from his job as a telephone operator after he tested positive on a company-wide drug test.

Coats was fired in 2010, but claims his employer never believed him to be impaired on the job.

Coats, and his attorney Michael Evans, attempted to win the case by arguing Colorado's Lawful Off-Duty Activities law, a law that protects cigarette smokers from getting fired for smoking off-duty, should also apply to medical marijuana users in Colorado, where smoking pot is a legal activity.

Evans issued a statement saying they intend to pursue an appeal on the decision.

"This case not only impacts Mr. Coats, but also some 127,816 medical marijuana patient-employees in Colorado who could be summarily terminated even if they are in legal compliance with Colorado state law," Evans stated.

Sources: ABC, Washington Times