Pot use in Colorado can still get you fired
A court says companies can terminate employees for legal medical or recreational marijuana use because it remains illegal under federal law.
The Colorado Court of Appeals just harshed everyone's buzz on Friday, when it ruled 2-1 that there's no employment protection for medical marijuana users in the state because the federal government still considers the drug illegal. That's bad news for Brandon Coats of Englewood, Colo., a former Dish Network (DISH) phone operator who opened the case by suing for wrongful termination after failing a company drug test in 2010.
Coats was paralyzed in a car crash as a teenager and has been a medical marijuana patient in the state since 2009. Dish Network actually never claimed Coats was impaired on the job. This follows a Washington state Supreme Court ruling that found workers can be fired for using marijuana, even if authorized by the state's medical marijuana law. But these rulings only further muddle the national patchwork of medical and recreational marijuana usage and drug-testing laws.
The number of American workers who are unemployed because they can't pass a drug test has risen 5.7% since 2007. While marijuana is the most common drug found in employee testing, it showed up in only 68,000 of the 3.4 million drug tests conducted last year.
Still, employers have been loath to let even medicinal marijuana use slide, citing federal law. In September, an appeals court ruled that a Wal-Mart (WMT) in Battle Creek, Mich., had the legal right to fire an employee who was prescribed medical marijuana for his cancer and inoperable brain tumor.
Colorado's Amendment 64 already allowed employers to ban marijuana in the workplace and implement policies restricting their employees' cannabis use. The latest ruling just knocks down the protection for marijuana use as a legal, off-duty activity. That puts increasingly progressive Colorado at odds with typically conservative Arizona, where workers cannot be terminated for lawfully using medical marijuana, unless it would jeopardize an employer's federal licensing or contracts.
There's a chance Colorado could consider a similar workaround in the future, but right now its medical marijuana users are facing the same issues as its 420 partygoers. What they're doing is "legal," but it's not yet legal.
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