Colorado’s Supreme Court on Monday approved the idea of employers dismissing workers for using marijuana off-duty, even if the state says it’s all right, because it remains a crime under federal law.
The 6-0 ruling, with one justice recusing, let stand a lower court’s decision that Brandon Coats could be dismissed by Dish Network because he tested positive for marijuana use. Coats held state permission to use marijuana for medical purposes. Colorado voted to approve recreational use of marijuana in 2012 and medicinal use in 2000.
The ruling said Coats “does not dispute that the federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits medical marijuana use.”
“The CSA lists marijuana as a Schedule I substance, meaning federal law designates it as having no medical accepted use, a high risk of abuse, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision,” the court said.
“This makes the use, possession or manufacture of marijuana a federal criminal offense, except where used for federally approved research projects. There is no exception for marijuana use for medicinal purposes, or for marijuana use conducted in accordance with state law.”
The case is the latest in a burgeoning conflict between state and federal laws on issues ranging from the manufacture of guns to Obamacare to medical marijuana.
Coats is a quadriplegic who says marijuana helps him manage muscle spasms. So he obtained a medical marijuana license from the state, which is one of only two states, along with Washington, to allow recreational use.
He tested positive in a work-related test and was dismissed in 2010. He sued, claiming that because the state made marijuana use legal, his use was protected by the law.
As other states consider proposals to make marijuana legal, the case could be seen as a roadblock.
Coats had claimed medical marijuana was legally allowed under the state’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities statute, which protects workers from employer discipline for activities they undertake off-duty that are legal.
Justice Allison Eid wrote the opinion and found, “Employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute.”
The decision essentially clears the way for Colorado employers to set their own standard for employee marijuana use.
“Having decided this case on the basis of the prohibition under federal law, we decline to address the issue of whether Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Amendment deems medical marijuana use ‘lawful’ by conferring a right to such use,” the court said.
The court found that “lawful” means legal under both state and federal laws.