Medical marijuana is now legal in 23 states across the union, including Colorado. There, the state Supreme Court will soon rule on whether or not a patient being treated with cannabis can be fired for using the product.
Brandon Coats, a legal medical marijuana patient, was fired from his job at Dish Network after testing positive for cannabis, during a random drug test in 2010. He had worked for the company for three years before his dismissal. He claims he was never under the influence of cannabis while at work, and Dish Network has not put forth any allegations of on-the-job use.
A lawsuit filed over the dismissal made its way up to the highest court in the Centennial State, when the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
Although the ruling in the case will only apply to medical marijuana patients, it could also set a precedent for recreational users in the first state to legalize cannabis for adults. Cases are also complicated because THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can be detected in samples weeks after intake.
In addition to states now allowing medical use of cannabis, several other states could soon legalize marijuana for recreational use by adults. More relaxed state laws are now coming into conflict with policies of some companies, which prohibit the use of cannabis by their employees.
A trial court found against Coats in the case, which also lost on appeal. Similar cases have been lost by employees in California, Washington state and Montana. The state maintains that industrial safety could be compromised if those decisions are over turned.
Coats was paralyzed in a car accident that took place when he was a teenager. In 2009, a doctor urged him to try treatment with marijuana, which took away violent spasms he had been experiencing. This made it possible for the 35-year-old to work with reduced pain. His lawyers argued that a law designed to protect cigarette smokers at work also applied to his client. Attorneys for the other side argued that because cannabis remains illegal at a federal level, the law does not apply.
During the hearing, the six justices asked attorneys from each side of the case numerous questions, but did not offer any glimpse into their eventual ruling. The final decision will be released at a future date, which could come in a matter of weeks or months.
"The eyes of the nation are watching as Colorado carries out an experiment by relaxing state laws on marijuana," the Colorado Attorney General's office wrote in a brief filed with the court, in behalf of Dish Network.