Employers can still fire employees for marijuana use, even in states where it’s legal. But one case heard in Colorado’s Supreme Court Tuesday morning could change that.
Brandon Coats, a 34-year-old quadriplegic medical marijuana patient from Colorado who was fired by Dish Network for his state-legal medical use in 2010, made his case in Denver before the highest court in the state on Tuesday, arguing that employers should not be able to fire patients like himself for using their medicine legally and outside of the workplace.
“Mr. Coats was never accused or suspected of being under the influence and received satisfactory performance reviews all three years,” Coats’ attorney Michael Evans argued in court, saying that Coats’ use should fall under the state’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute. “He was fired after an unknown type or amount of THC was found after a mouth swab test. Dish knew he was a medical marijuana patient. The mere presence of THC is not proof of impairment.”
Evans went on to say that the testing did not determine what kind of THC was found in Coats’ system, or how much was present. There are active and inactive forms of THC, and inactive forms can remain in a person’s body for more than 40 days after use.
But Dish Network attorney Meghan Martinez argued that whether or not Coats was ever impaired while at the workplace is not the issue. Rather, she said, “use” itself is the issue at hand. She defined “use” as simply having THC in one’s system.
“He tested positive, had THC in his system,” Martinez said. “We are alleging that he was using THC at the workplace. The definition of use is in the medical marijuana act [Colorado’s Amendment 20]. It’s the employment of something, the longstanding possession of something. He smoked marijuana while at home, but he crossed the threshold [to his office] with THC in his system. The use is the effects, it’s the THC, it’s the whole point of marijuana. So when he came to work, he was using.”
“Whether or not he was actually impaired,” Martinez continued, “is a different question.”