Even in Colorado, You Can Get Fired for Legally Smoking Marijuana — for Now


By now it's common knowledge that recreational weed is legal in Colorado. But can you toke up and keep your job?

It's a question being considered by Colorado's Supreme Court, which heard arguments today about whether or not a worker can be fired for using weed off the clock, even though the drug is legal.

Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who uses medical marijuana, was fired in 2010 by his employer, Dish Network, after failing a drug test, according to the Associated Press.

Coats argues that he was not high while he was working, and that medical marijuana was legal at the time he was using it — there's a portion of state law that forbids an employer from firing someone for legal activities outside of work. Dish Network, on the other hand, says that THC, pot's intoxicant, can stay in the system for weeks and that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

While the ruling could create an important precedent as more and more states move to legalize marijuana, Coats' lawyer, Michael Evans, simply called for a specific allowance for those whose jobs are not hazardous and don't deal with federal contracts, telling justices, "We're getting very confused and mixed messages from everywhere," according to the AP.

Patients like Coats who were fired for marijuana use weren't able to convince state courts in California, Montana or Washington, per the AP. A similar suit from a New Mexico woman who uses the drug to cope with her post-traumatic stress disorder is still pending.

Arizona, on the other hand, has the opposite law on the books: Workers are not allowed to be fired for legally using marijuana unless there's a federal contract involved.

If the court decides in Coats' favor, it could lead to string of lawsuits from other workers let go for their (legal) drug use. If it rules against him, it likely means more years of complications until a decision is made at the federal level. Either way, it serves as a reminder that, no matter how inevitable it seems, legalization can be a messy business for businesses and policymakers.