Colorado pot smokers can still be fired, court says


Smokers celebrate the state's medical marijuana laws in Denver, Colorado on April 20, 2012 and collectively light up at 4:20 pm. On Nov. 6, Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana with the passing of Amendment 64.


Marc Piscotty

Smoking might be legal in your state, but that doesn't mean your boss is cool with it. Employers can lawfully fire workers who test positive for marijuana, even in Colorado, where smoking is legal,  the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled.

The court has a rather technical reason for its ruling: since the drug remains barred by the federal government, the court of appeals found that there can be no employment protection at the local level.

"For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law," the appeals court said. 

More from GlobalPost:  World Wide Weed, a GlobalPost in-depth series

But while it might seem understandable that employers don't want a pot head on the job, the ruling is based on a particularly controversial case. The legal action was sparked by Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic. He began taking prescription medical marijuana after becoming paralyzed in a car accident. He had tried other treatments first,  he told the Denver Westword several years ago, but they didn't work.

In 2010, he was fired from his job as a telephone operator for Dish Network after testing positive for the drug, even though he only used it off-the-clock.

Coats' attorney Michael Evans says that the ruling harms other people who depend on marijuana as medicine, as well. "This case not only impacts Mr. Coats, but also some 127,816 medical-marijuana patient-employees in Colorado who could be summarily terminated even if they are in legal compliance with Colorado state law," he said  in a statement to NBC