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Coats vs. Dish: Supreme Court to rule on pot use by workers

Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic man who used marijuana off-duty to control muscle spasms, was fired in 2010 by Dish after failing a random drug test.

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday is expected to issue a ruling on whether businesses can fire workers who use medical marijuana when off the clock. (UPDATE: Get the story on the court’s ruling.)

The decision comes nine months after the state’s highest court heard oral arguments in Brandon Coats’ case against Dish Network.

Coats, a quadriplegic man who used marijuana off-duty to control muscle spasms, was fired in 2010 by Dish after failing a random drug test.

Coats challenged Dish and its company policy, claiming that his use was legal under state law. The firing was upheld in both trial court and the Colorado Court of Appeals.

When the case went to the Colorado Supreme Court, legal observers said the case could have significant implications for employers across the state.

They also noted that the ruling could be precedent-setting as Colorado and other states wrangle with adapting laws to a nascent industry that is illegal under federal law.

As such, the question at hand is whether medical marijuana is “lawful” under the state’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute.

Colorado law allows employers to set their own policies on drug use.

Supreme Court to rule on Coats vs Dish Network pot case
Brandon Coats, right, waits for the proceedings to begin with his mother Donna Scharfenberg sitting by his side. The Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, 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)

The justices’ ruling would establish a legal framework in how employers tolerate medical marijuana use by workers when off the job. It also could provide clarity in recreational marijuana use.

Six of the seven justices are deciding the case. Justice Monica Marquez recused herself because her father, retired Senior Judge Jose D.L. Marquez, was on the Court of Appeals panel that upheld Coats’ firing.

If a tie were to take place, the lower court’s ruling would stand.

Alicia Wallace: 303-954-1939, awallace@denverpost.com or twitter.com/aliciawallace

This story was first published on DenverPost.com