Last Updated:November 28 @ 05:03 pm

Judge says federal law trumps Colorado's on medical marijuana

By Washington Times

DENVER -- A severely disabled man fired because of his after-hours medical-marijuana use has no legal recourse because the drug remains banned under federal law, a Colorado court ruled Thursday.

A three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld 2-1 the firing of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who has a prescription for the drug in a state that permits medical marijuana, saying he was not protected from dismissal under the Colorado Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute.

The statute prohibits employers from dismissing employees who engage in legal activity outside of work, but says nothing about those who violate federal but not state law.

"Plaintiff contends that we must read 'lawful activity' to include activity that is prohibited by federal law, but not state law," said Chief Judge Janice Davidson in the divided opinion. "However, while we agree that the general purpose of [the law] is to keep an employer's proverbial nose out of an employee's off-site hours business we can find no legislative intent to extend employment protection to those engaged in activities that violate federal law."

The case illustrates the ongoing tension between federal and state authorities as voters and legislatures move to legalize medical marijuana in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The conflict is likely to intensify after the passage of ballot measures in November approving recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over in Colorado and Washington.

Brian Vicente, a Denver lawyer and marijuana- decriminalization advocate, called the court's ruling "disappointing" given the recent moves by Colorado voters to legalize medical and recreational pot.

"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," Mr. Vicente said.

At the same time, he said, the ruling underscores the need for the state legislature to update the Colorado Lawful Activities Statute, which originally was intended to protect tobacco smokers from being fired.

"We call it 'the smokers' rights statute,' but the court's take was that Colorado needs to revisit this statute to incorporate medical and now adult recreational use," Mr. Vicente said.

The Colorado legislature is now considering a package of bills designed to create a regulatory framework for recreational marijuana as required by Amendment 64, which won 55 percent of the vote in November.

Nearly 109,000 Colorado residents hold valid medical-marijuana registry cards. The most common medical condition cited for treatment is "severe pain," reported by 94 percent of cardholders, followed by "muscle spasms" at 16 percent, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

Mr. Coats worked as a telephone operator for Dish Network until he was fired in 2010 for failing a drug test in violation of the company's drug policy.

In his lawsuit, Mr. Coats said he never used marijuana at work and was never under the influence of the drug while on duty.


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  1. cgretiredComment by cgretired
    April 27, 2013 @ 9:14 am

    So, these users get fired for smoking dope yet welfare and food stamp recepients that smoke it still collect? Does anyone see anything wrong with that?
    I think that the first step in the welfare and/or food stamp application is a drug test. Fail it and you get nothing.

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    • bna42Comment by bna42
      April 27, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

      “The conflict is likely to intensify after the passage of ballot measures in November approving recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over in Colorado and Washington.”

      If the federal law supersedes state law and “medical marijuana” is still illegal, Colorado should know that “recreational marijuana” will also be illegal under the same federal law.

      This may be the battle between the feds and states rights that should have taken place a long time ago since the feds have continued their power grab until states no longer have the rights given them by the Constitution.

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  2. Pingback: Judge says federal law trumps Colorado's on medical marijuana - GOPUSA - Young Hector

  3. jmikes1951Comment by jmikes1951
    April 27, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

    So far I hope Federal Law supercedes Colorado Gun Laws. The citizens were allowed to vote for Marijuana but not for our new gun laws. Our polititions just rammed that down our throats without asking. Don’t Californicate Colorado.

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  4. rzraickComment by rzraick
    April 27, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

    I smoked pot when I was young and foolish but do not any more. Personal choice. I believe that people have a right to do any stupid thing they want, because I believe that we own our own bodies and the government is not a master who owns us as slaves.

    If a person does something to interfere with another individual’s rights, then the law must intercede.

    What concerns me more about this ruling is the corruption of the legal and justice systems. In our foundation the government ruled with permission from the people. The power of government lies first with the people, secondly with the local and state governments, and lastly with the Federal government.

    Anyone who thinks otherwise or rules otherwise does not understand our nation, its foundation, or its laws. The judge commited a crime with this ruling, Now a legal system which has already deteriorated to this extent cannot be exoected to rule on such a matter.

    Our system has been corrupted completely by the sickness of illogic which is the cornerstone of the progressive collective socialists.

    There is only one remedy for this. It is to have a philosophical awakening and then It to replace the government through revolution. I wish there was another way.

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  5. mach37Comment by mach37
    April 27, 2013 @ 4:23 pm


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  6. freddie3Comment by freddie3
    April 27, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

    It is ok for the FDA to approve drugs that can be worse than the ailments they are supposed to cure and they rarely cure anything, but let’s ban a natural substance that helps people and doesn’t have lethal side effects.

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  7. Pingback: Judge says federal law trumps Colorado's on medical marijuana – GOPUSA | Medical Marijuana Denver Colorado

  8. Pingback: Judge says federal law trumps Colorado’s on medical marijuana | Health

  9. prairelivingComment by praireliving
    April 28, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

    There has got to be a whole lot more people in CO going into the “medical marijuana” facilities than the 109,000 who hold special permits. If you told me there were 109,000 places registered to sell the stuff I’d believe you since you can find one every couple blocks in the Denver area. There sure must be a lot of very sick people in CO from the amount of places to buy the stuff.

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  10. pistol packing mamaComment by txgoatlady
    April 29, 2013 @ 8:42 am

    As a former medical technologist, I know a thing or two about drug testing. Many employers use pre-hire, for-cause and random drug testing. Marijuana (THC) is normally included in that testing. Marijuana can remain in your system for as long as 30 days after use since it is stored in fat tissue. Current testing in use does not indicate whether a person is currently under the influence, or used the drug within the last 30 days. I just wonder what the heck employers are supposed to do, especially those who employ commercial drivers in states where marijuana use is legal. Are they supposed to ignore a positive test and assume that the use was off-duty? Should they simply stop testing for marijuana use at all? Should they administer a “field sobriety” test as further evidence that the user was under the influence while on the job?

    These pot-head ex-hippies who grew up in the 60′s and 70′s are now in management positions at companies and in high elected positions. They all think that marijuana is harmless and want to see it legalized. I won’t argue that point as I don’t see any reason to use the stuff myself, but they really haven’t taken everything into consideration when they drafted laws counter to federal law and company policies.

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    • mach37Comment by mach37
      April 29, 2013 @ 5:04 pm

      txgoatlady, that is such a well-presented statement; it should be read by all state and federal legislators who may be confronted with voting on drug laws.

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