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Colorado Supreme Court rules medical marijuana patients can be fired for failing drug test

Brandon Coats
Brandon Coats, a Colorado medical marijuana patient, was fired from Dish Network after failing a drug test in 2010.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled on Monday that medical marijuana patients can be fired for their consumption of cannabis outside of work hours.

The court sided with Dish Network in a 6-0 ruling on a case that stems back to 2010 when Brandon Coats, who is a quadriplegic, was fired by Dish Network after failing a drug test. The company agreed that Coats wasn’t high on the job but said it has a zero-tolerance drug policy.

Marijuana’s active ingredient THC can be found in the body sometimes weeks after last consuming it.

The Colorado justices ruled that because marijuana is illegal under federal law, Coats’ use of the drug couldn’t be considered legal off-duty activity.

“There is no exception for marijuana use for medicinal purposes, or for marijuana use conducted in accordance with state law,” the court wrote.

Coats and his lawyers said the decision at least clarified the matter for workers.

“Although I’m very disappointed today, I hope that my case has brought the issue of use of medical marijuana and employment to light,” Coats said in a statement.

Dish Network and other business groups applauded the ruling.

Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018
Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018

“As a national employer, Dish remains committed to a drug-free workplace and compliance with federal law,” company spokesman John Hall said in a statement.

Colorado became at least the fourth state in which courts have ruled against medical marijuana patients fired for pot use. Supreme courts in California, Montana and Washington state have made similar rulings, and federal courts in Colorado and Michigan also have rejected such claims.

Legislation was introduced in the 2015 Texas legislative session which would have legalized medical marijuana and provided protections to patients for off the job use of cannabis. The legislation would have also allowed employers to prevent patients from consuming it while on the job.

Texas Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, Heather Fazio, was one of many who spearheaded the legislation, which died in committee without a vote.

When asked about whether she believes there will protections for Texans in a final bill version, she said “I do, and we will work hard to ensure that that happens.”

Fazio stated that when Texas does legalize medical marijuana, there will be protections for medical marijuana patients included in the legislation, just as there currently are for other patients.

Coats was paralyzed in a car crash as a teenager and has been a medical marijuana patient since 2009, when he discovered that pot helped calm violent muscle spasms. He was a telephone operator with Dish for three years before he failed a random drug test in 2010 and was fired. He said he told his supervisors in advance that he probably would fail the test.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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