The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that Dish Network’s firing of Brandon Coats for testing THC-positive in a drug test was lawful. Despite Coats being a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient and there being no indication that Coats ever imbibed a cannabis product while on-duty, the court ruled that Coats was not protected by Colorado’s “lawful activities statute.”
Coats was fired in 2010 after a mouth swab showed traces of THC. According to Coats’ attorney Michael Evans, “Dish knew he was a medical marijuana patient. The mere presence of THC is not proof of impairment.”
Indeed, there is no technology that can currently detect whether a cannabis user’s senses are impaired by THC with any precision comparable to an alcohol breathalyzer test. THC can stay in the body 40 days after use, and mouth swabs have been shown to be problematic in a few respects when determining inebriation or the amount of THC in someone’s system.
Evans argued to the state Supreme Court that Coats’ cannabis use as a medical marijuana patient in a state with a legal MMJ program should be protected by Colorado’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute.
But the court’s ruling should not necessarily be interpreted as opposing the rights of a patient to use prescribed medicine in their off-hours. It reflects the problematic nature of marijuana law in the U.S. Because marijuana is still a federally-designated controlled substance, the court found that its use cannot fall under “lawful off-duty activities.”
The decision is a troubling landmark because it means that the same thing could happen to employees in any state, regardless of that state’s laws or a user’s medical condition. As long as cannabis’s federal designation remains a Schedule I controlled substance, the courts’ hands may be tied.
“We have the proof that [Coats] was [a top performer] in his evaluations,” Evans told the Huffington Post. “I think he was late twice, and that was the extent of any discipline.”
It’s unclear why Dish Network fought so hard to keep Coats’ dismissal intact. “We are alleging that he was using THC at the workplace,” said Dish Network attorney Meghan Martinez. “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.”
Another problem this case points to, beside the well-known contradiction of federal and state marijuana law, is a societal issue. It’s silly for patients to fear for their jobs for what they do outside of work according to a legal medical prescription. Federal laws can take years to catch up with common sense, but corporate laws should move a bit faster.
Photo via Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post