Court Rules Employees Can be Dismissed if They Use Marijuana Off the Job


Marijuana and a gavel together for many legal concepts on the drug.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that employees in the state can be fired for using marijuana off the job. The case involved a paralyzed customer service worker who uses medical marijuana to help treat painful spasms resulting from a car accident, The New York Times reports.

The case has been closely followed by employers and marijuana advocates. A growing number of states are approving medical or recreational use of marijuana, but the drug remains illegal under federal law, the article notes.

“Employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute,” Justice Allison H. Eid wrote in the court’s unanimous decision.

The lawsuit was brought by Brandon Coats, who was fired by Dish Network after testing positive for marijuana. Coats has a state-issued medical marijuana license. He said he never used marijuana on the job, and argued Dish Network’s policy violated a state law that bans companies from firing employees for off-duty, lawful activities.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruling upheld two lower-court decisions. In 2013, an appellate court in Colorado ruled employees can be fired for testing positive for marijuana. Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000, and passed a law legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012. The appellate court ruling affirmed a lower court decision that marijuana use does not qualify as lawful because it is still illegal under federal law.

“The federal government has in many ways the last say,” Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver who studies legal issues surrounding marijuana, told the newspaper. “As long as that federal prohibition is in place, the states can only do so much.”