Brandon Coats never expected he would end up as the test case pitting Colorado’s medical marijuana laws against the right of employers to have zero-tolerance marijuana policies. But now the Colorado Supreme Court will be hearing his case against Dish Network, the company that had employed him as a telephone operator at its call center, then fired him when he tested positive for marijuana on a random piss test.
Now, the Colorado Attorney General’s office has filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting businesses’ right to fire medical marijuana patients for their off-hours home use of cannabis.
Coats is no average employee. According to colleagues and his own performance reviews, he was a model employee who received high marks for his customer service. Coats is also paralyzed and in a wheelchair, making this job one of the few he is capable of working. He uses cannabis medically in accordance with the state’s medical marijuana law.
The Supreme Courts of California, Oregon, Washington, and the federal District Court in Michigan have ruled that -- medical marijuana law notwithstanding -- employers are well within their rights to fire medical marijuana patients over dirty piss tests. The key arguments in these cases are that 1) medical marijuana laws as written don’t prevent the employer from maintaining a “drug-free workplace,” 2) the laws don’t require employers to “accommodate the use of medical marijuana in the workplace,” and 3) patients don’t have a “right” to medical marijuana, they are merely exempted from criminal prosecution.
However, the Colorado case involves a hitch not found in those other states: The Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute. This is a unique law to Colorado that states that nobody can be fired from their job for engaging in activities outside of work that are legal. For instance, a sales clerk couldn’t be fired if she was discovered to be nude model, a Tea Party member, or likes to dress up as a zombie for cosplay in public.
Coats has argued that he engaged in no illegal activities by being a Colorado medical marijuana patient, therefore, he should be protected from being terminated for that reason. He believes that his state-issued medical marijuana card give the imprimatur of Colorado that his activities were lawful.
The Court of Appeals disagreed and now the Colorado Attorney General’s office is petitioning the Supreme Court to uphold that ruling. The AG’s office believes that allowing Coats to keep his job will mean employers would be forced to prove workers were stoned on the job before being able to fire them. “Simply put, zero tolerance policies provide businesses with an efficient means of avoiding difficult employment decisions and even litigation,” according to the AG.
Forgive our incredulity, but shouldn’t proof of being stoned on the job actually be the standard by which we fire marijuana users, medical or not? We don’t fire beer drinkers for their weekend binges or post-work celebrations! In the name of making life easier for big corporations like Dish Network, employers that have all the human resources management and legal professionals they need to hire, fire, and litigate over employees who are stoned at work, the Colorado AG prefers to make employment impossible for sick and disabled people like Brandon Coats, which only puts him back on the welfare rolls at taxpayer expense.
When we look back at the turn of the 20th century, we are shocked at the “No Irish Need Apply” and “Colored Water Fountain” signs that openly discriminated against a despised minority. We will be equally shocked a generation from now at these courts that approved the “No Patients Need Apply” and “Drug-Free Workplace” signs of the turn of this century.