The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday affirmed lower courts” rulings that businesses can fire employees for the use of medical marijuana — even if it”s off-duty.
The 6-0 decision comes nine months after the state”s highest court heard oral arguments in Brandon Coats” case against Dish Network. Coats, who had a medical marijuana card and consumed pot off-duty to control muscle spasms, was fired in 2010 after failing a random drug test.
Coats challenged Dish”s zero-tolerance drug policy, claiming that his use was legal under state law. The firing was upheld in both trial court and the Colorado Court of Appeals.
When the case went to the state Supreme Court, legal observers said the case could have significant implications for employers across Colorado.
They also noted that the ruling could be precedent-setting as Colorado and other states wrangle with adapting laws to a nascent industry that is illegal under federal law.
As such, the question at hand is whether the use of medical marijuana — which is in compliance with Colorado”s Medical Marijuana Amendment — is “lawful” under the state”s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute.
That term, the justices said, refers to activities 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,” Justice Allison H. Eid wrote in the opinion.
The justices said the court will not make a new law. Current Colorado law allows employers to set their own policies on drug use.
Coats” attorney Michael Evans, of Centennial-based The Evans Group, called the decision “devastating.”
“For people like Brandon Coats, there really isn”t a ”choice,” as MMJ is the only substance both he and his (Colorado-licensed) physicians know of to control his seizures due to his quadriplegia,” Evans said. “He has to have it. “
A silver lining of the decision, Evans said, is that it provides clarity in a “scary, gray area” of state law.
“Today”s decision means that until someone in the House or Senate champions the cause, most employees who work in a state with the world”s most powerful MMJ laws will have to choose between using MMJ and work,” Evans said in a statement.
Six of the seven justices decided on the case. Justice Monica Marquez recused herself because her father, retired Senior Judge Jose D.L. Marquez, was on the Court of Appeals panel that upheld Coats” firing.
Alicia Wallace: 303-954-1939