Coloradans could find out whether they have a right to use marijuana when the state Supreme Court takes up a major case Tuesday that will clarify cannabis’s place in the law.
The case involves a quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient named Brandon Coats, who was fired from his job at Dish Network in 2010 after testing positive for pot even though there is no evidence he was impaired on the job. Dish Network says its company policy prohibits marijuana use of any kind.
Though the case focuses specifically on medical-marijuana use, it has drawn the attention of business groups and marijuana activists because the high court’s conclusions could also be applied to recreational marijuana use. That makes it something of a test case nationally for how employers can treat marijuana in an age of increasing tolerance for cannabis use.
“The eyes of the nation are watching as Colorado carries out an experiment by relaxing state laws on marijuana,” the Colorado attorney general’s office wrote in a brief filed on behalf of Dish Network.
After being fired, Coats challenged his dismissal by arguing that a specific Colorado statute should have protected him from being fired for doing something that is lawful under state law. Two courts subsequently upheld the firing, concluding that marijuana’s illegal status federally means it can’t be considered “lawful.”
Instead of creating a right to marijuana, the courts ruled, Colorado’s medical-marijuana amendment merely created exemptions within the state’s criminal laws against pot and doesn’t guarantee the ability to use marijuana.