NEW YORK (MainStreet) — A decision by the Colorado Supreme Court today determined that employers in the state who prohibit their employees from medical marijuana use can continue to discipline and terminate workers who test positive for the drug.
Despite the fact that Colorado passed a lawful off-duty conduct statute several years ago, the Supreme Court found that even though medical marijuana use is legal in the state, federal law still prohibits the use of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes. The main issue is that the federal law prohibiting the recreational use of marijuana is still trumping state law. The decision means that medical marijuana use is not “lawful” for purposes of Colorado’s lawful off-duty conduct statute.
The unanimous decision by the Supreme Court in the Coats v. Dish Network case means it is “highly unlikely” that employees in other states will succeed in similar lawsuits of wrongful termination under state lawful off-duty conduct statutes after being fired for their medical marijuana use, said Adam Brown, a Denver-based attorney at Fisher & Phillips, a law firm that represents employers nationally in labor and employment matters.
“Other future courts will look to Colorado to see what our court ruled,” he said. “This is a very clearly worded opinion.”
Since Colorado approved recreational use of marijuana in 2012, it remains to be seen on how firm some employers will react in their enforcement of this ruling.
“Some employers are more lax about off-duty marijuana use, while others are stricter and feel strongly about prohibiting off-duty marijuana use,” Brown said. “The Court issued an employer-friendly opinion that will have wide-ranging implications for all Colorado employers.”
In 2010, Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic, was fired by Dish Network for using marijuana off the clock for the pain caused by his “intense muscle spasms” that were the result of a non-work related car accident, he said. Coats, who worked as a customer service representative for three years, claimed that a Colorado statute holds that people can't be penalized for participating in legal activities while not at work. He was fired after a random drug test because of Dish Network’s zero-tolerance drug policy.