Colorado Supreme Court Solves Pressing Problem Of Stoner Quadriplegics In The Workplace
So now that Colorado has legalized people getting all potted up on weed for both medical and recreational purposes, you might think everything is mellow and awesome and Doritos sales are through the roof, right? You would think wrong, though, as the Colorado Supreme Court decided Monday morning that the state's "lawful activities statute" didn't protect a quadriplegic man from being fired for use of medical marijuana at home, even though he never used it at work and had an excellent work history.
Brandon Coats, who was paralyzed in a car crash when he was 16, suffered from severe muscle spasms and seizures that were alleviated by a prescription for marijuana. But he was fired by his employer, Dish Network, after a random drug test detected THC in his bloodstream. The Colorado Supreme Court held that "employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute" of "lawful activities," which only covers activities legal under state and federal law. Like drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, for example.
Coats's attorneys had argued that since he "was never accused or suspected of being under the influence and received satisfactory performance reviews all three years" that he worked at Dish, he should not have been fired. Dish's attorney argued that THC is evidence of drug use, and that by definition, its presence in the blood indicated that Coats was in violation of the company's "zero tolerance" drug policy:
He smoked marijuana while at home, but he crossed the threshold [to his office] with THC in his system. The use is the effects, it's the THC, it's the whole point of marijuana. So when he came to work, he was using.
Dish never contended that Coats was impaired, since the mere presence of THC was sufficient cause to fire him. And nope, the federal Americans With Disabilities Act doesn't allow any exceptions for medical pot either. Colorado's Amendment 20, which made medical marijuana legal, doesn't require employers to tolerate marijuana use in the workplace, but also doesn't say anything about whether employees can be fired for at-home use; today's decision at least settles that question, which ought to be a great comfort for Mr. Coats. This is what's known in the law as the "Sucks to be you, but now the law's status is clarified" principle. Maybe he can get a nice T-shirt or something.
In the 23 states (and the District of Columbia) that have legalized medical marijuana, only Arizona and Delaware expressly forbid employers from punishing use of marijuana away from the workplace. Both allow firings if employees are impaired at work. Along similar lines, the federal Department of Transportation says that it's "unacceptable for any safety-sensitive employee subject to drug testing under the Department of Transportation’s regulations to use marijuana,” which means no medical marijuana for bus drivers anywhere. Sorry, Otto, regardless of what state Springfield may be in.
Here's hoping that this dumb law eventually changes. As long as job performance isn't affected and the person isn't impaired at work, it seems kind of stupid to take away an option that allows someone like Brandon Coats to control his tremors, which really would interfere with being a customer service operator. Congratulations, War on Some Drugs! Yet another productive member of society taken off the job market by "zero tolerance."
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.