Court: Colorado Businesses Can Fire People for Smoking Pot

by | June 15, 2015 AT 7:50 PM

By Nigel Duara

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that a satellite television company lawfully fired a quadriplegic employee after he tested positive for marijuana, finding that the federal prohibition on pot makes the drug unlawful even though marijuana use is legal in the state.

The seven-member court ruled that former Dish Network customer service representative Brandon Coats, who uses marijuana in his off time to deal with painful muscle spasms, was rightfully fired on June 7, 2010, after he failed a drug test.

Coats sued, alleging wrongful termination. Coats argued that marijuana was made lawful when Colorado voters legalized it in 2012.

A trial court dismissed Coats' suit, saying the state's legalization of marijuana only provides a defense against prosecution, and does not make the use of marijuana a "lawful activity" that is protected against discrimination.

The Colorado Constitution specifically states that employers don't have to amend their policies to accommodate employees' marijuana use, The Associated Press reported.

When the case went to the Colorado Court of Appeals, justices differed with the trial court's reasoning but still found that Coats was rightfully terminated because marijuana is prohibited by federal law. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed with that reasoning, voting 6-0 with one abstention.

"Nothing in the language of the (employment) statute limits the term 'lawful' to state law," wrote Justice Allison H. Eid. "Instead, the term is used in its general, unrestricted sense, indicating that a 'lawful' activity is that which complies with applicable law, including state and federal law.

"We therefore decline Coats's invitation to engraft a state law limitation onto the statutory language."

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