Medical Marijuana? You Can Still Be Fired

There was a story out of Colorado today which illustrates some of the asinine rules concerning medical marijuana.  Although both medical and recreational use of marijuana is legal in the state, an employer can still terminate your employment based on testing positive on a drug test.

Unfortunately many employers haven’t caught up with the times.  Dish Network fired Brandon Coats and the Colorado Supreme Court held up a lower court decision that protected the rights of the employer to fire Coats for failing a random drug test.

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It wasn’t even close.  The decision was 6-0.

But wait, the story really gets interesting when one considers the fact that Mr. Coats was not just some stoner trying to skirt his employer’s zero tolerance policy by obtaining a medical marijuana card for a marginal health problem.

No, Mr. Coats was rendered a quadriplegic after a car accident and used marijuana to control leg spasms.

Unfortunately, because possession and use of marijuana is still considered a crime under federal law, using medicinal marijuana is not covered under Colorado’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute.

Ironically, Mr. Coats probably would have been okay had he opted to take much stronger, more addictive narcotics had they been prescribed by a doctor (medical marijuana can only be “recommended” by a doctor).  Of course, those more powerful drugs would have likely cost many multiples more per dose than medical marijuana.

While this is one of those cases that begs for a debate on whether or not these laws are helping or harming society, but for the sake of this post, I think it’s better to focus on what this means for people in the job market.


Much like the legalization of marijuana itself, it appears that the next step in public acceptance of marijuana usage will also be a slow painful process.  Each company that currently performs drug testing needs to be educated and convinced that medicinal marijuana usage where legal should not be grounds for termination.

It pains me to say it but the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling is not surprising.  Employers have previously won similar cases not involving marijuana.  Really, even in states with laws protective of employees, for the most part, nobody has a right to a job.  An employer can fire you for any or no reason in many states.

Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas are all states where an employer has the right to terminate the employment of workers who smoke cigarettes even in the privacy of their own home.

Additionally, I would suspect that Dish Network’s lawyers have a natural fear of the federal government.  You don’t provide satellite broadcasting without needing to suck up to Uncle Sam for licenses and permits and many companies in regulated industries or industries that deal with the federal government as part of their normal operations, have zero-tolerance policies.

So, it’s not really surprising that the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Dish Network had the right to terminate Mr. Coats for failing a drug test.

But whether or not they had the right to do it is not the core issue.  Should they have done it is the real question that should be asked.

This is what happens in a bureaucracy.  The rules become more important than the people.

This should give you some sort of indication of what type of company Dish Network is.  If they couldn’t look the other way or make an exception for one of their own, a person with an obvious medical condition who followed all of the rules to obtain probably the least potent form of medication available, then how do you think that company is going to treat you, as a random customer?  Will they be a company that goes above and beyond for your business or will they follow rigid corporate policies?

If I was a Dish Network customer, I would strongly consider canceling my service and letting them know why.