DENVER, CO — Colorado employers can legally fire marijuana users from their jobs, the state Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in a 2-1 decision. Although the case was brought by a medical marijuana user, the ruling will have any even broader impact given that the state has now legalized marijuana for all adults.
The case was Coats v. Dish Network LLC, in which Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic telephone operator for Dish Network and registered medical marijuana patient, was fired by Dish Network after testing positive for marijuana during a drug test. Paralyzed by a car crash as a teen, Coats had been a registered patient since 2009. Dish Network cited no other reason for firing Coats other than his positive drug test result.
Coats challenged his firing, citing Colorado’s Lawful Activities statute, which prohibits employers from firing workers for “engaging in any legal activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours.” But both the trial court and now the appeals court rejected his challenge, holding that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Lawful Activities statute does not apply.
“For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law,” the appeals court said.
Judge John Webb dissented, saying he could not find a case addressing whether Colorado judges must consider federal law in determining the meaning of the Colorado statute.
Coats’ attorney, Michael Evans, said in a statement that the ruling will have a broad impact in the state.
“This case not only impacts Mr. Coats, but also some 127,816 medical marijuana patient-employees in Colorado who could be summarily terminated even if they are in legal compliance with Colorado state law,” Evans said.
And with adult marijuana legalization now in place in the state, it is not just medical marijuana users who stand to be affected.
The ruling is expected to be appealed.
Similar rulings allowing employers to fire medical marijuana users have been upheld by courts in other states, including California, Michigan, and Montana.