Colorado State Supreme Court hears marijuana firing case


Colorado State Supreme Court and Colorado Court of Appeals building.

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DENVER -- Colorado's marijuana laws received more national attention Tuesday.

In a case closely watched across the country, the Colorado State Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Coats v. Dish Network over the company's marijuana policy.

Recreational marijuana use might be legal in Colorado, but employees can still be fired for using it. A Colorado man has been fighting that for a long time and Tuesday, his lawyers presented his side at the Colorado State Supreme Court.

In 2010, Dish Network fired Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient after he failed a random drug test. Coats, who was working as a phone operator, says he was never high at work and now he can't find steady work because employers are concerned about his off-duty smoking.

The 35-year-old took the case to trial, arguing his termination violated employee rights because medical marijuana is legal in Colorado. But a court disagreed, as did an appeals court.

“This decision from the court of appeals said lawful activity rules out activity that’s prohibited by federal law," employment attorney Vance Knapp said.

Added Coats: “I’m not gonna get better any time soon, I need the marijuana and I don’t want to go the whole rest of my life without having a job.”

Coats was paralyzed in a car crash as a teenager and started using medical marijuana in 2009. His doctor urged him to use it to calm violent muscle spasms that made it difficult for him to work.

The outcome of this case could affect future lawsuits by employees who are fired for smoking marijuana and employment policies in states where marijuana use is legal.

The company issued the following statement after the day's proceedings: “DISH does not comment on the specifics of employee matters. As a national company, DISH is committed to its drug-free workplace policy and compliance with federal law, which does not permit the use of marijuana, even for medicinal purposes.”

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