Pot Smokers Can Be Fired: How Does Colorado Ruling Affect Legal Marijuana Use?

By Philip Ross on April 26, 2013 2:31 PM EDT

pot smokers can be fired
Even though it is now legal to smoke marijuana in the state of Colorado, pot smokers can still be fired for the habit. How does the ruling in Colorado affect legal marijuana use? (Photo: Flickr/Torben BjArn Hansen)

Even though Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana in Nov. 2012, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that pot smokers can still be fired from their jobs for lighting up on their own time.

AP reports that because Colorado's marijuana law, called Amendment 64, is contrary to federal law, smoking pot can be a reason for employment termination since the drug remains barred by the federal government -- even if the pot smoker was not on his employer's property.

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"I thought it was an inappropriate reliance on federal law -- the court used that as an 'out' to avoid a ruling based on state law," Brian Vicente, a Denver lawyer and advocate of marijuana-decriminalization, told the Washington Post.

Thursday's ruling came after a 33-year-old telephone operator named Brandon Coats sued Dish Network LLC for firing him in 2010 after his drug test came back positive for marijuana. Even though Coats had a medical prescription for pot following a car accident that left him paralyzed; the court dismissed Coat's case when it sided with Dish Network that medical marijuana use is not a "lawful activity," AP reports.

From AP:

The court said lawmakers could act to change the law to protect people who use marijuana, but there have been no plans to do that at the state Capitol.

Colorado's amendment legalizing recreational marijuana doesn't give people a constitutional right to smoke pot and doesn't protect users from criminal prosecution, from being fired or from other negative consequences. Backers [of the amendment] said smoking off the job was a gray area and warned people to be familiar with their employers' drug policies.

Twenty states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana for medical use. Two states -- Colorado and Washington -- also legalized pot for recreational purposes.

However, cannabis is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government. IScience Times reported earlier that under the Controlled Substance Act, or CSA, passed in 1970, pot is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, meaning the government considers it to have a high potential for abuse and must therefore be highly regulated.

Coats' case in Colorado highlights the contentious relationship between federal and state authorities. The landscape of marijuana laws in the U.S. is constantly shifting and state laws, which are decided directly by voters and state authorities, often contradict federal law. This proves especially difficult for law enforcement officials, who are supposed to uphold both state and federal laws.

According to the Washington Post, nearly 109,000 Colorado residents are registered to legally smoke medicinal marijuana. Ninety-four percent of these marijuana card holders cited "severe pain" as their reason for smoking pot, and 16 percent said muscle spasms were the reason for their seeking medicinal marijuana. According to Business Insider, the medical benefits of marijuana are numerous: It can decrease anxiety, control epileptic seizures, prevent blindness from glaucoma and even stop the spread of cancer. 

Under current legislation, people like Coats who smoke pot for medicinal purposes can be fired from their jobs. "The Colorado legislature is now considering a package of bills that would create a regulatory framework for recreational marijuana as required by Amendment 64, which won 55 percent of the vote in November [2012]," the Washington Post reports.

Until pot smokers are afforded legal protections, much like cigarette smokers were given under state Smoker Protection Laws, marijuana users will continue to be arbitrarily terminated from their jobs, even in states where recreational and medicinal marijuana use is legal.

Read more from iScience Times:

Tomorrow Is 4/20: Know Your Pot Laws; Where Is Weed Legal?

Marijuana Tax: Will Potheads End The Budget Crisis? [REPORT]

$4M Of Pot On Beach; A Ton Of Weed, Literally, Abandoned On Cali Beach

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