Marijuana Drug Testing: The Case of Coats v. Dish Network Update

Marijuana Drug Testing: The Case of Coats v. Dish Network Update
Marketing Specialist

We recently published an article discussing the complexities of today’s ever-changing marijuana laws, and the impact it’s had on employers and their drug testing policies. The inconsistencies between state and federal marijuana laws have made it increasingly challenging for employers to understand what constitutes as “legal activity” in their state’s Lawful Activity Statute. As it currently stands, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substance Act, which is considered to have a high potential for dependency and not accepted for medical use, making the distribution of marijuana still a federal offense in all 50 states.

What does this mean for medical marijuana patients in the workplace?

In the recent case of Coats v. Dish Network, Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic man who uses medical marijuana to control his spasms and seizures, alleged that we was wrongfully terminated in 2010 based on his use of medical marijuana. Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and expanded its law to cover recreational use in 2012. He sued Dish Network for violating Colorado’s state law that prohibits employers from firing their employees for engaging in “legal activity” during nonworking hours and off the workplace premises. Coats argued that he was protected under the state’s Lawful Activity Statute because he was a license medical marijuana patient.

Dish Network prevailed at both the trial and appellate court. The appellate court held that the plaintiff’s medical marijuana use is not protected under Colorado’s “off-duty conduct” law because his state-licensed medical marijuana use is still prohibited by federal law. On June 15 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Dish Network making it permissible for employers to terminate an employee in the basis of medical marijuana even if the employee is off-duty and not on the workplace premises.

According to the Associated Press, the Colorado Constitution specifically states that employers don’t have to amend their policies to accommodate employees’ marijuana use. In Colorado’s “lawful activities statute,” the term “lawful” refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law; employees who engage in activity, such as medical marijuana use, that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute. “As a national employer, Dish remains committed to a drug-free workplace and compliance with federal law,” company spokesman John Hall said in a statement.

In sum, because Coats’ marijuana use was unlawful under federal law, he was not protected in Colorado’s “lawful” activities. What concerns do you hold for medical marijuana in the workplace? Do you agree with the Colorado Supreme Court’s final ruling of Coats vs. Dish Network? Please comment below.

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