Despite the fact that marijuana has been legal in Colorado for a while now, the state’s Supreme Court is still hearing cases that will decide the technicalities of actually smoking it. In recent news, a quadriplegic man who smoked marijuana for medical reasons has filed a case against Dish Network for firing him in 2010, after he failed to pass a drug test. The defining detail is that there was no evidence to prove that Brandon Coats, the plaintiff, was under the influence while he was working — in other words, he consumed marijuana in his own free time, but was still fired.
Coats’s case has been floating around the Colorado courts for about two years now, but one local Denver news source states that it could be weeks, if not months, before the six Supreme Court justices make their final decision. The confusion that Coats’s case has brought up seems to be a discrepancy between state laws, which are starting to be more lenient toward marijuana usage, and federal laws, which tend to be stricter — and which companies often use when crafting their anti-drug policies.
Coats states that Colorado’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute should have protected him from being fired; this law prohibits employers from firing employees for partaking in any type of legal activity outside of work. And since pot has been legal in Colorado since 2000, the law could potentially mean that it’s unlawful for state employers to fire employees for consuming marijuana outside of work (defining different policies for medical vs. recreational marijuana doesn’t seem to be a concern here).
However, Dish Network states that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, making the consumption of marijuana illegal — even outside of the workplace — and that the company’s zero-tolerance policy for illegal drug use is still conducive with federal law. In conclusion, Colorado state laws and federal laws regarding marijuana are in direct conflict with each other, and no one seems to know which laws should hold more authority.
As more states begin to relax their laws against marijuana possession and usage, people across the country are realizing that the outcome of Coats’s case will likely influence the details of marijuana legalization in other states. Similar cases have already appeared in the Supreme Courts of California, Montana, and Washington, and all of these courts have ruled against the fired employee. But there are well over one million licensed attorneys in the U.S. today, and the fact that a growing number of attorneys are dedicating their careers to untangling the state-federal discrepancies with marijuana legality shows that more people questioning whether or not current federal laws have any say in the matter.
By looking solely at past court hearings, one would conclude that Coats is unlikely to win his case; nevertheless, pot supporters across the country are still remaining hopeful.