The Colorado Supreme Court Marijuana Case That'll Hand Over Control To Your Employer — Or Not
For the people of Washington state and Colorado, marijuana is still a whole new world. Those two states have had access to high-quality legal weed for a while now, and in the case of Colorado it's added a little jolt to the economy, both through hiring and taxes on the newly legal drug. But here's the thing — even though it's legal in the state, your employer still might not like you using it. That's what happened to Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic man fired for using legal marijuana by Dish Network. Because, obviously, you couldn't possibly smoke a joint in your downtime and still hold down a job at Dish Network.
It's a pretty dispiriting case, really, because if there was ever a time you'd expect a company to have a little understanding or basic decency, it would be when somebody's using medical marijuana to ease, as Coats has, "delimitating muscle spasms," according to Time. But sadly, no such understanding was offered — Coats lost his job, and hasn't been able to find one since, citing the dim view employers take of marijuana use as a major culprit. Now, however, he's trying to strike a blow for all his fellow medicinal users by challenging Dish Network in the Colorado Supreme Court.
There’s a lot of people out there like me who would like to have a job but cannot, because their impairment requires them to use marijuana, and because marijuana’s looked down on for employment, they’re not able to get jobs.
There are some unique contours to the case, which could play a role in how it all shakes out — in the first place, marijuana wasn't fully recreationally legal at the time Coats was fired, having been dismissed from Dish Network back in 2010. It was, however, medicinally legal, but neither the state's medicinal nor recreation law stipulates whether employers can still consider it a fireable offense. Coats' lawyer is arguing, according to Time, that in spite of the law's wiggle-room, Dish Network acted wrongly, due to a separate law which prevents firings for legal activities performed outside of work.
Dish Network, on the other hand, has the convenient argument you'd expect them to — it's still a federally banned substance (rated in the same category by the DEA as heroin, insanely), and therefore they can terminate employment over it if they see fit. According to the Denver Post, Dish Network's attorney laid out their stance in pretty flat terms: "It doesn't matter if he was impaired or not. It's a violation."
The Colorado Supreme Court hears arguments in the case this week, and it'll be fascinating to see which way they end up ruling. Lower courts have sided with the employers in cases such as these, according to Time, but there's no telling whether this will stop at the state level — as more states embrace marijuana, this will become a bigger and bigger question. If marijuana legalization becomes truly prevalent enough to necessitate some action, maybe you'll see the U.S. Supreme Court take up this issue someday.
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