Brandon Coats leaves the courtroom at the end of a court hearing on Sept. 30, 2014, in Denver. The Colorado Supreme Court listened to oral arguments in the case of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient who was fired from his job at Dish Network after testing positive for marijuana. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)

Editorial: Colo. constitution clearly defines marijuana use in workplace

The constitutional amendment establishing medical marijuana in Colorado was pretty clear when it came to employers and pot.

It should not, the amendment said, be construed as requiring “any employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any work place.”

That seemed straightforward to us, and apparently to two lower courts that ruled against a man suing his former employer for firing him over his weed use.

Yet Colorado Supreme Court justices seem to find the issue perplexing. The court last week considered an appeal brought by medical marijuana user Brandon Coats, who was rendered a quadriplegic by a car accident.

In 2010, he was fired from his customer service job at Dish Network for failing a drug test and violating the company’s drug policy. Coats says he uses marijuana to control leg spasms.


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He maintains he was never high on the job. And while one might question whether Coats’ drug use really had any effect on his job performance, we don’t think there’s any question that the company is allowed to prohibit it.

And surely there are situations in which having marijuana-impaired employees could be a liability — such as on a loading dock where heavy equipment is in use.

One distinction that makes a difference is that Colorado’s medical marijuana amendment did not establish pot use as a right.

Rather, the amendment created what is called an “affirmative defense,” which allows an exemption from prosecution — not a constitutional right to use medical marijuana.

We have sympathy for Coats, who apparently remains unemployed, but we hope Colorado’s Supreme Court justices keep faith with both the letter and intent of the amendment and employers’ rights to prohibit marijuana use by their employees.


Brandon Coats vs. Dish Network:
A special report from The Cannabist

Coats vs. Dish: A Colorado Supreme Court hearing that will have major implications for marijuana and the workplace ended Tuesday with the state’s most esteemed justices mostly scratching their heads.

Watch the video: Here’s the full hour-long video of the first meeting of Coats and Dish in front of the Colorado Supreme Court

Top 20 tweets: How Twitter reacted to the hearing, and how the case could rewrite pot and employment laws

Was Coats impaired while at work? “It doesn’t matter if he was impaired or not. It’s a violation,” Dish attorney Meghan Martinez said of Coats’ admitted marijuana use at home

More companies are drug testing: Some employers are taking a tougher stance against workers’ drug use since recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado, according to a workplace survey

Editorial: Why some Colorado employers still need no-marijuana policies

The Colorado AG backs Dish: The state attorney general’s office says Coloradans do not have a right to use marijuana off the job, siding with Dish in its firing of a medical-marijuana patient.


This story was first published on DenverPost.com