Pubdate: Thu, 18 Jun 2015
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Copyright: 2015 Boulder Weekly
Author: Leland Rucker


The Colorado Supreme Court Monday dealt the final legal blow to a 
Colorado man's plea to keep his job after failing a random drug test 
administered by his employer in 2010.

Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who has a medical marijuana card and 
uses cannabis at home to help control leg spasms, had been a customer 
service representative of DISH Network until the drug test, for which 
he tested positive for THC. Coats admitted that he was a medical 
marijuana patient and would continue to use the drug, so he was fired.

Coats argued that under Colorado's "lawful activities statute," which 
makes it illegal to discharge someone based on the employee's 
"lawful" outside-of-work activities, he was legally consuming medical 
marijuana off the job and therefore should not be fired.

The court ruled 6-0 that the definition of "legal" includes both 
state and federal law. Since marijuana is illegal under federal law, 
DISH Network was within its rights to fire Coats.

For Coats, it's the end of a horrible, five-year ordeal to try and 
keep his job, especially since there was no indication that Coats' 
use of cannabis was affecting his work performance. For all medical 
cannabis patients, the decision means they now have no legal recourse 
if they are fired, a real setback for both patient and employee rights.

It touches at the heart of the conflict over how much control a 
business can have over what people do when they're not on the job and 
continues the stigmatization of cannabis use. Corporations might 
believe they're doing themselves a favor by drug-testing employees 
specifically for marijuana and keeping the stoners out. They're 
making a big mistake, since testing neither keeps out marijuana 
users, a brighter group than many people think, nor protects anyone 
else in the workplace.

The reason is pretty simple: Drugtesting doesn't work. There is 
nothing that indicates that employees who use cannabis are any less 
productive than people who drink alcohol or use prescription drugs on 
their own time. Yet companies continue to spend large amounts of 
money to cheat themselves out of good talent. (Check with all the 
tech companies that don't test for marijuana for evidence.)

I'm not holding my breath that corporate interests will figure out 
their folly and stop drug testing. Which leaves any possible changes 
to the state legislature, which is charged with creating marijuana 
law. "The court is saying that it won't interpret something the 
legislature hasn't interpreted," says Rep. Jonathan Singer. "I have 
been quiet on this issue to see what the courts were going to do. 
They're saying, 'The legislature hasn't said anything, so why should 
we?' I didn't want to introduce a bill while case was pending and 
hoped the courts would deem it lawful."

That wasn't the outcome, and Singer admits that when it comes to drug 
testing, there are a lot of issues to deal with, but that it's a good 
bet that the issue will be given serious consideration next session. 
"The legislature needs to take a harder look at people with 
debilitating conditions. Being intoxicated at work is one thing. 
Following a doctor's recommendation on your own time should be another."

It's good news that the state of Colorado is trying to obtain real 
data in its efforts to find out the effects cannabis legalization has 
had on teenagers. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation designed 
to single out marijuana from other drugs in school reporting. 
HB15-1273 adds sexual assaults and the unlawful use of marijuana to 
the current list of conduct and discipline code violations that a 
school has to report as part of the safe school reporting requirements.

It also revises the 2012 law to track police involvement in student 
discipline, which is designed to see how often school officials were 
referring youths to law enforcement and how often they handled 
matters themselves.

The bad news is that this is the beginning of the collection of those 
data. For whatever reason, though the state passed legalization in 
2012 and retail sales began in January 2014, schools were not 
required to single out marijuana in their drug offenses reporting.

Rep. Polly Lawrence told The Associated Press that the state needs to 
find out "what sort of impact legalization has had on our kids." 
Since the first report is due Aug. 1 and will be retroactive for the 
2013-14 and 2014- 15 school years, those pre-legalization data will 
be sketchy. The first really useful information won't come for 
another couple of years, and, though better late than never, it won't 
really reflect the impact of legalization.

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado 
cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom