By Ashik Siddique
Even in states where recreational and medical marijuana use is legal, pot smokers can be fired after failing drug tests, ruled judges in a Colorado court against quadriplegic plaintiff Brandon Coats.
Pot smokers can be fired by their employers in states where recreational and medical marijuana use is legal, ruled the Colorado Court of Appeals on Thursday. Even if they only use cannabis while off duty and are unimpaired at work, their jobs are still on the line if they fail a drug test.The plaintiff in the case is 33-year-old Brandon Coats, a Dish Network telephone operator, reported Reuters. Coats has been a medical marijuana user since 2009, after a car crash left him a quadriplegic.
He was fired by Dish in 2010 after a company drug test, even though there was no evidence of impairment from the effects of pot while on the job.
Coats sued to keep his job, and after a district court upheld his termination in 2011 he appealed the ruling. Judges in the Colorado appeals court upheld the decision in a 2 to 1 vote.
Medical marijuana use has been legal in Colorado since 2000, and recreational use was approved in November 2012. Since cannabis is still federally illegal, however, the court decided that pot smokers can be fired because they have no federal employment protection.
"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," Coats' attorney, Michael Evans, told the Associated Press.
Evans plans to appeal the decision that pot smokers can be fired in Colorado to the state's supreme court, he added to Reuters.
The federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, with a high potential for abuse and no acceptable medical use, despite a well-established and expanding body of evidence regarding its therapeutic value. Among other conditions, medical cannabis is often prescribed for chronic pain, migraines, sleeping disorders, nausea, glaucoma, sleeping disorders, and anxiety.
Medical marijuana is currently allowed in 18 states including Colorado, and several more states currently have legislation in the works.
In other states with liberal cannabis laws, rulings similar to that of the Coats case have also found that pot smokers can be fired because of the conflict with federal policy.
Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization advocacy group, believes that employment law about marijuana use will soon catch up with shifting attitudes in the United States.
"Culturally, it will occur even more quickly, as a majority of Americans now think marijuana should be legal for adults," he told Reuters.