On Thursday, a Colorado Court of Appeals panel ruled that a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient fired for off-the-job marijuana use had no expectation of job security, creating a disquieting legal situation in the state.
Despite lacking evidence that he was impaired on the job, the Dish Network fired telephone operator Brandon Coats after he tested positive for marijuana. Coats took his employers to court, arguing that his termination violated Colorado's Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute, which states employees cannot be fired for engaging in legal activities when off-the-clock.
Unfortunately for Coats and the thousands of patients like him, a trial court ruled against him, citing a previous case that declared Colorado’s medical marijuana law only exempts patients from prosecution.
The decision makes it clear: Colorado’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute does not cover legal state activities that conflict with federal law. Meaning, employees may smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, and risk developing a myriad of ailments, but if those employees opt to use a safer substance by following a doctor-recommended course of treatment, they must do so with the knowledge that their voter-approved choice could mean losing their source of income.
Employers are prevented from discriminating against employees based on medical conditions or treatments. Medical marijuana patients should be treated equally, not worse than people who use dangerous narcotics at the direction of their physicians.
Two cases involving medical marijuana patients have reached the supreme courts of their respective states, and their results could have far-reaching implications for medical marijuana in the future.
In Washington, the state Supreme Court announced it will hear the appeal of a woman who was fired from her job at a telephone call center for testing positive for marijuana on a workplace drug test, despite being a registered medical marijuana patient. While the medical marijuana law in Washington does not protect patients using marijuana in the workplace, the patient had never used her medicine while on the job, and did not work in a role where residual intoxication could prove dangerous to others. Her employer terminated her for using a medicine that she was legally allowed to use in her own home.
It is not known whether this company, Teletech, has fired employees for testing positive for other controlled substances that they have been using legally on the advice of a physician. My guess is they have not.
The final ruling in this case will clarify the rights of employers and employees in medical marijuana states and will no doubt influence the language of future bills, as will the case of Joseph Casias, a Michigan medical marijuana patient who was fired under similar circumstances.
And on March 3, the Oregon Supreme Court will tackle the case of Cynthia Willis, a medical marijuana patient and long-time holder of a concealed-carry handgun permit. Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters denied Willis' permit renewal after he learned that she was a patient, citing conflict with federal law barring drug users from possessing firearms.
So far, the lower courts have sided with Ms. Willis. Let's hope the highest court in the state does, too. People should never be denied their constitutional rights simply because they are sick.