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I heard the Coats ruling last week. So what exactly does it mean for me living, working full-time and consuming cannabis in Colorado? –Domestic Desk Jockey
Hey, Desk Jockey!
As you know, the Colorado Supreme Court came out with their long-anticipated ruling in the Coats v. Dish Network case. Ultimately, the Court reaffirmed the decisions of the lower courts’ ruling that an employer can terminate an employee for use of medical marijuana.
To find out what this really means (which is a vague question, by the way), I asked my go-to source for employment law, Rachel Arnow-Richman, University of Denver law professor and director of the school’s Workplace Law Program.
Reaction to the Coats ruling
The ruling is limited to medical marijuana use. Arnow-Richman says, “The decision is a narrow one. The question before the court was whether medical marijuana use was protected under the Colorado Lawful Activities Statute (CLAS), which prohibits employers from terminating an employee for engaging in a ‘lawful activity’ outside of work.”
Of course, the differences between state and federal law are a primary factor. The decision the court determined was whether a lawful activity under Colorado law has to also be lawful under federal law. Arnow-Richman clarifies, “The court concluded that in order for an employee to be protected from termination under the statute, his or her ‘lawful’ and off-duty activity must be permissible under both state and federal law.”
This decision clarifies current medical marijuana law. To put into context, this isn’t the first marijuana-related employment Supreme Court case, and it might not be the last as the associated issues related to legal marijuana use continue. Previously, other legal strategies were used and were not successful in court. “This decision is essentially the final say on this issue for purposes of employment protection under the law as it currently stands,” says Arnow-Richman. “Courts have already considered and rejected claims based on the theory that termination for medical marijuana constitutes disability discrimination.”
In order for employees who are medical marijuana patients to have protections from termination, a different legal approach is necessary. Arnow-Richman suggests, “This means that marijuana advocates will have to shift their focus from the courts to the legislature. The state legislature can amend the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) to protect medical marijuana users. Whether there would be political support for that move is another question.”
For additional reading, here’s a recent Ask The Cannabist column discussing employment law, marijuana use and job interviews. XO