DENVER (CN) – Colorado’s Supreme Court is considering whether its is lawful to fire someone who uses medical marijuana off the job when medicinal pot use is legal in the state, but still illegal federally.
Dish Network fired medical marijuana user Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic, from their call center in Colorado in 2010. There are no allegations that Coats was high at work; however, the company said it has a zero-tolerance policy on drug use.
Coats sued his former employer claiming that his off-the-job medical marijuana use should be protected by Colorado’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute. The law prevents companies from firing workers for doing things off-the-job, such as smoking cigarettes, which are legal.
Dish Network countered by claiming that medical marijuana use cannot be considered legal because it is illegal federally.
Last year, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld Dish Network’s firing of Coats.
In a hearing, a Colorado Supreme Court panel first asked Coats’ attorney Mike Evans about his position on whether Colorado law creates a right for patients to smoke pot in the state in spite of federal law.
“We are not arguing that is constitutional, we are arguing that it is lawful,” Evans said, “There is a distinction between a state saying this is lawful and this is permitted and a state saying this is constitutional.”
Evans also claimed that the panel should consider the issue of states’ rights.
“There is a time and a place for federal supremacy, but we must also recognize state sovereignty,” Evans said.
While addressing Dish Network’s attorney Michael Francisco, the panel asked what ruling the panel should give.
Francisco replied it would not matter.
“The same result would be that it is against federal law,” he said.
Francisco went on to say that “It would be an absurdity for employers to be liable for firing an employee who violates federal law.”
The hearing ended without the panel indicating when a ruling would be forthcoming.
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