A common misconception about marijuana legalization, both medical and recreational, is that you won’t be fired by your employer for smoking marijuana. As un-American as it sounds, you can indeed be fired for smoking marijuana legally.
One Colorado medical marijuana patient, Brandon Coats, found this out the hard way, and was fired from his job with Dish Network. Now his case is being reviewed by the Colorado Supreme Court. This case could finally answer the question: Do I have a right to smoke marijuana?
If you are even wondering how someone could be fired for doing something legal, don’t feel bad; I didn’t think you could get fired for a legal activity either; however, there are two main reasons why you can get fired for smoking legal marijuana
The first reason is that marijuana is still federally illegal; and since federal law trumps state law, it doesn’t matter if you think you are abiding the law. The second reason is that most legislation for marijuana legalization fails to provide a provision that protects your ability to smoke marijuana. Sadly, as hard as it is to pass marijuana reform, legalization would be even harder if lawmakers tried to protect the right to smoke marijuana.
In the case of Coats, he was fired from his job as a Dish Network phone operator in 2010 for testing positive for marijuana. In his teenage years, he was in an auto-accident which left him wheelchair bound. When he spoke with Colorado Public Radio he said that he smokes medical marijuana because it “gets my spasms to where my body’s not going out of control.”
Coats and his lawyer argue that his firing from Dish Network was a violation of Colorado’s Lawful Activities statute, which protects employees from firing for legal behavior that happened off the premises of their workplace.
This statute seems to conflict with a provision in Colorado’s medical marijuana laws that states, “Nothing in this section shall require any employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any work place.” Although there seems to be a contradiction, one could reasonably argue that freedom from accommodation does not equal freedom to persecute.
Although Coats seems to have a solid argument for his case, in the past, marijuana-related employment lawsuits have not gone well. Joseph Casias is a medical marijuana patient in Michigan. He smokes medical marijuana to relieve symptoms stemming from a brain tumor and sinus cancer; in 2009, he was fired from his employer, Wal-Mart.
According to Fortune Magazine, his case was thrown out by Michigan’s Supreme Court because while Michigan’s medical marijuana laws protected Casias from legal prosecution; it did not protect him from workplace discrimination. Unfortunately, Michigan does not have a Lawful Activities statute like Colorado does.
It is really hard to tell where this case will go because although Coats has a decent case, courts have been reluctant to protect an individual’s right to legally smoke marijuana. If the court rules in favor of Coats, it could have widespread implications.
For the first time in the country, a court might actually affirm one’s right to legally smoke marijuana; even if only for medical marijuana. For too long in this country marijuana users have been treated like second class citizens. By failing to protect marijuana users’ right to have gainful employment, you rob them of one of the most basic necessities.
The ability to work is essential to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of your lifestyle choices. When your employment options are restricted, your ability to live is restricted. If we really are the land of the free, then our laws and our courts need to catch up and match reality with their rhetoric.