DENVER (CBS4) – A major ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court related to marijuana was made on Monday. The court ruled that a man who was fired from his job after failing a drug test cannot get his job back.
Monday’s ruling involves medical marijuana, but could have broader implications. The court sided with Dish Network, which fired Brandon Coats when he tested positive for THC, pot’s intoxicating chemical. Coats is a quadriplegic who uses pot to treat seizures.
Coats, who had worked for Dish Network for three years, told CBS4 he woke up Monday morning feeling very nervous. He said when the ruling came down just before 9 a.m. he was devastated.
“It’s really hard for me to live my life without marijuana, I am constantly shaking,” Coats said. “I’m disappointed but I do think this case has brought it into the light.”
The key issue in the ruling was the interpretation or definition of “lawful.” Coats and his lawyer argued his use of medical marijuana off the clock was legally allowed under state law despite it being illegal at the federal level.
Justices wrote activities “permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law” are not protected by any Colorado statues.
Dish Network released a statement saying they’re pleased with the outcome.
“As a national employer, Dish remains committed to a drug-free workplace and compliance with federal law,” the company said in a statement.
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CBS4 spoke with Denver employment attorney Curtis Graves who specializes in drug involvement in the workplace. He says employers have been very concerned about impaired workers on the clock and how the law applies to the workplace. He said that the ruling continues to allow employers to run their company the way they want.
“Based on this decision there’s no more gray area,” Coats’ attorney Michael Evans said. “It gives clear guidance to employers and employees now. We didn’t have that before.”
Meanwhile, Coats says he has a reason for why the ruling came down the way it did.
“I think that the reason that the decision came down how it did is because the subject is so new and controversial,” Coats told CBS4. “I believe that over time the views will change. I hope that they will change and that one day it will be to a point where that I’ll be able to work.”
Coats told CBS4 he isn’t working but he’s been looking for a job since he was fired. His lawyer said they do not plan to try to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court and Monday’s ruling was the end of his case. But Coats told CBS4 he plans to continue to seek changes to laws to protect patients.
“If we’re going to have a law making medical marijuana legal in Colorado we need to address the issues that come along with it, such as employment. If we’re going to allow people to smoke marijuana, are we just not going to let them work?” Coats said.
“Enough of people like Brandon is going to put so much pressure on Congress that they’re going to have no other choice,” Evans said.
“People can’t see it as a medicine,” Coats said. “I think it’s just a matter of time before attitudes change … I want to be able to work one day, I want society to change so I can work one day.”