Pubdate: Fri, 26 Apr 2013
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Nathan Koppel


Medical and recreational marijuana use may be legal in Colorado, but 
businesses in the state still have the right to fire people who test 
positive for the drug, a Colorado appellate court ruled Thursday.

The Colorado Court of Appeals in Denver made its ruling in a case 
filed by Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who was fired by Dish Network 
LLC in 2010 after he tested positive for marijuana, in violation of 
company policy.

Mr. Coats, who has a state-issued medical-marijuana license and says 
he never used pot on the job, claimed in his suit that the 
satellite-TV provider's policy violated a state law that bars 
companies from firing employees for their off-duty, "lawful activity."

The appeals court, affirming a lower-court decision, sided with Dish 
in ruling that marijuana use doesn't qualify as "lawful" because it 
is barred by federal law. This ruling doesn't invalidate the state's 
marijuana laws. Colorado law doesn't "extend employment protection to 
those engaged in activities that violate federal law," the court ruled.

Michael Evans, counsel for Mr. Coats, said he will appeal. "Brandon 
was a great employee," Mr. Evans said. "We have the facts on our 
side; now, we just need the law." Dish Network didn't respond to a 
request for comment.

"We feel it is profoundly unfair to fire someone who may have smoked 
a joint on the weekend but is perfectly sober and productive in the 
workplace," said Ethan Nadelmann, the Executive Director of the New 
York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for the legalization 
of marijuana.

Tom Bugnitz, Chief Executive of the Colorado Association for 
Manufacturing and Technology, said it is important to give companies 
the flexibility to conduct drug tests and to fire employees whose 
drug use raises concerns.

Companies "want to keep people from showing up at work in such a way 
that they endanger other employees and our products," he said.

A growing number of states authorize medical marijuana use-and two 
states, Colorado and Washington, have passed laws allowing 
recreational pot use. But in many of those states, the question of 
whether employers can fire workers for using the drug remains legally 
murky, said Robert Mikos, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School who is 
an expert on drug law.

"The few courts that have confronted the issue have not read state 
law to protect marijuana users" against being fired, Mr. Mikos said. 
But he added that at least two states, Arizona and Delaware, have 
passed laws that restrict the firing of medical-marijuana users 
unless they are shown to have been impaired on the job. Colorado has 
no such law.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom