Patients who have been prescribed medicinal in Colorado, where private us of marijuana by the general public was legalized, can still fired by an employer, an appeals court ruled Thursday, because the drug remains illegal under federal law.
The decision upheld a court ruling that was filed after a quadriplegic man was fired from his position for testing positive for cannabis. Last year, Colorado became one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. It is one of 20 states that have previously legalized pot for medicinal purposes.
Brandon Coats, a registered medical marijuana cardholder who was rendered quadriplegic from a car crash in 2009, was fired from Dish Network more than two years ago. Coats tested positive for marijuana during a random drug test, but no evidence was found that he was using the substance while at work, according to a Reuters report. After his dismissal, he sued the company to get his job back.
Medicinal or not, the appeals court upheld a judge's initial ruling that Dish was within its rights to fire Coats. The judge agreed the medical marijuana use is "not a lawful activitiy."
"(W)hile we agree that the general purpose of (the worker protection law) ... is to keep an employer's proverbial nose out of an employee's off-site off-hours business ... we can find no legislative intent to extend employment protections to those engaged in activities that violate federal law," Judge Janice Davidson wrote in the majority opinion.
Coats' lawyer, Michael Evans, announced his plans to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. The legal implications of the rulings, he argues, will affect thousands of Colorado citizens who are acting within their rights.
"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 told the Associated Press.