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Employees May Be Fired For Marijuana Use, Colorado Supreme Court Rules


The debate over pot is far from settled even in the state that pioneered the legalization of marijuana, Colorado. Yesterday, the State Supreme Court ruled there ruled that using that drug even for medical reasons can still cost you your job. Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee reports.

MEGAN VERLEE, BYLINE: When customer service representative Brandon Coats was picked for a random drug test by his employer Dish Network, he knew he was going to fail. Coats is quadriplegic and uses marijuana to control debilitating seizures. Coats went to his HR manager with his medical marijuana card.

BRANDON COATS: She took my card, made a copy of it, and said, you know, we have never had this before, and they actually took two weeks deliberating on what they we're going to do.

VERLEE: What Dish did was fire Coats. He sued based on a Colorado law that says employees can't be punished for engaging in lawful activities outside of work. But in their ruling, Colorado's justices found that lawful means of both state and federal law. Coats' lawyer Michael Evans says this clears up a gray area.

MICHAEL EVANS: Employers didn't really know what can we and can we not do with medical marijuana.

VERLEE: The Coats ruling was only needed in the case of medical marijuana patients. Colorado's recreational marijuana law explicitly says workers can be fired for using it during off hours. But with Colorado's jobless rate low, University of Denver employment Professor Rachel Arnow-Richman says companies may start to rethink their zero-tolerance policies.

RACHEL ARNOW-RICHMAN: The problem is going to continue to arise, and individual employers will have to decide whether they want to test for this drug or not.

VERLEE: That shift could help Brandon Coats. He says between his disability and the lawsuit, he hasn't been able to find work since losing his job with Dish. For NPR News, I'm Megan Verlee in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.