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Colorado: Pot Use is Still a Valid Ground for Termination

Drug testing result failed 3d illustration

Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic man who used marijuana off-duty to control muscle spasms, was fired in 2010 by Dish Network after failing a random drug test. He challenged the termination, and Dish Network’s company policies, claiming that his pot use was legal under state law – and therefore, was not a valid grounds for termination. Like Texas, Colorado law allows employers to set their own policies on drug use. Unlike Texas, Colorado has a law that says employees can’t be fired for “lawful” off-duty activities. Coats argued that pot use was “lawful” under Colorado law, and therefore, could not serve as a basis for termination. But the Court held:”under the plain language of…Colorado’s “lawful activities statute,” the term “lawful” refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Therefore, 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.”

Several states and cities have passed legislation to legalize marajuana. Whether this changes the legal landscape for employees, however, has been far from clear. Colorado’s ruling is one of the first to interpret the new marajuana laws in the employment context. The result? When it comes to firing an employee, the law hasn’t really been affected.

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