Colorado Appeals Court Rules Employers Can Fire Marijuana Users

Colorado employers can legally fire marijuana users from their jobs, the state Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in a 2-1 decision. Although the case was brought by a medical marijuana user, the ruling will have any even broader impact given that the state has now legalized marijuana for all adults.

The case was Coats v. Dish Network LLC, in which Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic telephone operator for Dish Network and registered medical marijuana patient, was fired by Dish Network after testing positive for marijuana during a drug test. Paralyzed by a car crash as a teen, Coats had been a registered patient since 2009. Dish Network cited no other reason for firing Coats other than his positive drug test result.

Coats challenged his firing, citing Colorado’s Lawful Activities statute, which prohibits employers from firing workers for “engaging in any legal activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours.” But both the trial court and now the appeals court rejected his challenge, holding that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Lawful Activities statute does not apply.

“For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law,” the appeals court said.

Judge John Webb dissented, saying he could not find a case addressing whether Colorado judges must consider federal law in determining the meaning of the Colorado statute.

Coats’ attorney, Michael Evans, said in a statement that the ruling will have a broad impact in the state.

“This case not only impacts Mr. Coats, but also some 127,816 medical marijuana patient-employees in Colorado who could be summarily terminated even if they are in legal compliance with Colorado state law,” Evans said.

And with adult marijuana legalization now in place in the state, it is not just medical marijuana users who stand to be affected.

The ruling is expected to be appealed.

Similar rulings allowing employers to fire medical marijuana users have been upheld by courts in other states, including California, Michigan, and Montana.

– Article originally from Stop the Drug War, used with permission.

(image Associated Press/Ed Andrieski)



  1. Cliff on

    I like the way you think bro. . I think that after legalization all of these evil companies should have to pay for the pain and suffering they have caused Americans. Their companies and personal assets should be confiscated and given to drug war victims. DEA pensions should be confiscated and given to drug war victims. The hypocrisy in America is at maximum insane level.

  2. Son of Sam Walton on

    Since modern man has to work a job in order to buy food and shelter because man has to have food and shelter to live –the probability of death has increased by however much for every person fired.  If one is fired because they were obeying the law (not using while at work), then this is an act of attempted premeditated murder since said boss knows his ability to afford shelter and food has been destroyed, yet still decides to let them suffer –hence premeditated.  We should treat these companies and employers like people attempting premeditated murder . . . it would be logical to defend our lives against these people the way it behooves us to defend ourselves against someone with a knife or a gun . . . some of the most wicked and violent weapons are ‘laws’ or ‘policy’ and these employers should be disarmed before they try to murder again.

  3. Anonymous on

    When federal law changes, for sure this couldn’t go down. But even now he should be able to fight this again and have the ruling change.

    No one can fire you for recreational alcohol, tabacco, or caffeine use, i don’t see how marijuana would be different except it’s not federally legal. Well as long as you’re not drinking on the job.

    But if it was for medicinial purposes, then he has the best arguement, because it is illegal to fire employees for the medication they take or for their disability.

  4. gutrod on

    That would be fair if all cops, judges, teachers, doctors, government employee’s and politicians are forced to take urine tests as well. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Beyond that this behaviour is cruel and venemous not to mention outragious. Unfit for the 21st century.

  5. Mrs. Ratsrectum on

    When federal law changes, that excuse ain’t gonna fly.  I’m guessing there’s no chance of a class action lawsuit retroactively being valid, but maybe under the Americans With Disablilities Act since he is a quadriplegic.  It’s just a damn shame companies are being such assholes about it.

  6. InnocentToker on

    Well I suppose that when all the “legal” smokers get fired and start drawing unemployment that the state will be ready to provide support to all the people who are now working hard. I suppose that the courts will decide to allow employers to fire gun owner, gays, unwed mothers, abortion supporters, muslims, christians, atheists, senior citizens and consumers of big gulps. Heck why not just allow slave masters to do whatever they want regardless of your level of performance and productivity. Oh wait did I mention that we are slaves?

    I have always supported business owners right to fire someone for attendance, performance or capability (or lack of) but I hate the right to work laws in most states. I agreed to do a job for a wage and as long as I do that job, per the agreement, I should not loose my job based on my off hour activities and choices, criminal choices being the exception. Now didnt Colorado vote to allow adult consumption of cannabis? Didnt the state change the law to allow for adult cannabis consumption? Cannabis smoking is not criminal in the state of Colorado.

    I would gladly support a 2 strike rule of employment. If the company suspects you are under the influence but cannot prove it then you are suspended. If you are suspected again you are fired. Obviously you have to iron out the finer details to prevent abuse but until science is allowed to research a quick test to determine level of cannabis intoxication you would have to make allowances. As an employer I expect all my employees to be at work, ready to work and 100% capable of doing that work. If they are I do not care what they do after the required hours of work. I will not put my business or employees at risk and I will not risk loosing my good employees because of choices AFTER WORK that I may not agree with.

    I fully understand that my statement leaves alot of holes for interpretation but my point is valid and workable if the business takes a vested interest in its employees like it expects the employees to do for the business. Right now most businesses are in it 100% for the profit and employees are expendable. As a business owner I want to make a profit but I also recognise that my employees are the foundation of my profit and as such I want to treat them like they matter and in return I will get a level of commitment and work ethic that will transfer into my product and profit.

    Its not difficult.