Medical marijuana patients in Colorado could lose their jobs for using cannabis because the drug remains illegal under federal law, the state's highest court ruled on Monday, upholding the firing of a quadriplegic who tested positive for pot.
The decision, which affirms a state appeals court ruling from April 2013, stems from a dismissal in 2010 by the Dish Network of one of its employees, Brandon Coats, for violating the company's anti-drug policy.
Coats, who was injured in a car crash, consumes marijuana at home, in accordance with a medical-marijuana card issued to him under state law. He asked the Colorado Supreme Court to reinstate his wrongful-termination claim against Dish.
But the state high court upheld the lower-court opinion finding that federal drug law trumps a state statute that protects workers from engaging in lawful activities outside the workplace.
"Therefore, employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use, that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law, are not protected by the (state) statute," the Supreme Court said.
Colorado is one of 23 states, along with the District of Columbia, that allows the use of pot for medicinal purposes. Colorado voters also have legalized cannabis for adult recreational use, as have voters in Washington state, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C.
However, under federal law, marijuana remains classified as an illegal narcotic.