Major Marijuana Case Decided

Yesterday, the Colorado Court of Appeals released its much-anticipated decision in the case of Coats v. Dish Network, L.L.C. (Colo. Ct. App. 2013).

Brandon Coats had been terminated from his former employer, Dish Network, after testing positive for off-duty medical marijuana use with a physician’s recommendation. Coats filed suit, alleging that his termination violated Colorado’s lawful off-duty activities statute, which prohibits discharging an employee for “engaging in any lawful activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours,” with limited exceptions.

At issue in the case was the obvious tension between Colorado state law, which permits the use of medical marijuana with a physician’s recommendation, and federal law, which does not.

“[B]ecause activities conducted in Colorado, including medical marijuana use, are subject to both state and federal law, for an activity to be ‘lawful’ in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law,” the court said. “Thus, because plaintiff’s state-licensed medical marijuana use was, at the time of his termination, subject to and prohibited by federal law, we conclude that it was not ‘lawful activity’ for the purposes of [Colorado’s lawful off-duty activities statute].”

While an appeal is likely, the holding is extremely positive for employers concerned about their ability to lawfully terminate employees for off-duty recreational marijuana use.