The disconnect between the classification of state-sanctioned cannabis and the federal prohibition of cannabis has created another impossible situation for the law to resolve. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled on June 15th that companies can legally fire employees who use cannabis.
I’m not talking about use at the workplace, or impairment that impedes your performance, those are valid reasons to terminate someone’s employment. I’m talking about private, off-duty use by people who are authorized MMJ patients.
This case was about Brandon Coats, whom you may remember as the Colorado resident who is quadriplegic and a MMJ patient who was fired by Dish Network in 2010 on the grounds of cannabis use. After years of debate, the Colorado Supreme Court has decided it has no choice but to let federal law trounce everything their state citizens voted into law.
The case hinged on what, exactly, constitutes “lawful activities” under the state laws. The court officially ruled that, “the Supreme Court holds that under… Colorado’s ‘lawful activities statute,’ the term ‘lawful’ refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Therefore, 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.”
Time and again, federal law trumps state law. I can somewhat understand this from a governing perspective. After all, we are a nation of united states, not a continent of sovereign nations sharing borders. We are states within an overarching system of government. Nor should this be read as an indictment of the Colorado Supreme Court. They are tasked with (supposedly) interpreting the law, not writing it. The federal Schedule I status of cannabis has caused so many problems it would be laughable if it wasn’t ruining so many lives.
Coats was initially fired from his position as a customer service representative after a mouth swab found trace amounts of THC. The company knew he was a MMJ patient and claimed that he was using cannabis in the work place, despite no evidence to support the claim and no performance issues with Coats for the three years he worked for Dish Network. They tested him, found THC in his system and terminated him.
It’s unclear why Dish Network really wanted to fire Coats, but they are hiding behind policy as an excuse to persecute a man who lives his life in a wheelchair. I hope Coats gets true justice before too long and I hope he’s been able to find some stability after this ordeal.
The really scary part is the precedent this may set going forward. How many people will get fired under the auspices of cannabis use? If it’s not able to be concretely tied to performance or criminal activity that hurts the company, it is discrimination, plain and simple.
The only top-down cure for this madness (and a great deal of other problems) is to reclassify cannabis to a place on the schedule that makes sense legally and scientifically. Once again, you can be a raging, violent alcoholic who goes home to work on your Nazi manifesto every night and no one can fire you for it; you have protected rights. However, a man who is paralyzed smokes a little grass at night to ease his pain and he doesn’t deserve his job? This is just wrong and goes against the American spirit.