The Slatest

Colorado Supreme Court Rules Employees Can Be Fired for Marijuana Use Even If It’s Legal

Legal, yes, but pot still could get you fired in pot-pioneer Colorado.

Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

In Colorado, it is now legal to use marijuana. Paradoxically, you can still lose your job for smoking pot on your own free time. That decision came via the Colorado Supreme Court on Monday and could prove to be a precedent-setting decision in what is considered a gray area of the law.

The court ruled on the case of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic employee of the Dish Network, who had a medical marijuana card and consumed marijuana when he was off duty to help control painful leg spasms that were the result of a car accident that left him paralyzed. In 2010, Coats, a customer service representative with the company, failed a random drug test and was fired.


Lawyers for Coats argued a Colorado statute specifically aimed at protecting marijuana users prohibited employers from firing employees for engaging in “any lawful activity” on their own time. The court disagreed. “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 court’s 6-to-0 decision reads.

“The court’s decision was a blow to marijuana advocates, who have consistently seen court rulings go against them, with judges in Colorado and elsewhere saying that companies have the right to create their own drug policies,” the New York Times reports. “The loss by Mr. Coats highlights the limits of marijuana legalization at a time when more states are approving medical or recreational uses of a drug that is still outlawed as a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government.”