Twenty-three states now permit medical or recreational marijuana use, yet the overwhelming number of public and private employers continues to prohibit employees from using the drug. As the number of states allowing private marijuana use grows, businesses are having growing concerns about their rights to enforce workplace drug policies and otherwise operate their businesses in a drug-free environment. A case will soon be heard that will likely examine these competing interests directly.
The ABA Journal and New York Times report that in Colorado, where the drug is now legal for recreational use, an employee fired for using marijuana off-duty has appealed his termination to that state’s highest court. The Colorado Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on September 30, 2014 in a suit filed by a fired customer service representative who uses medical marijuana to control painful spasms he has suffered since he was paralyzed in a car crash.
The worker, Brandon Coats, was fired after he failed an employer-administered drug test. He argues his job at Dish Network is protected by a Colorado law that bars companies from firing workers for legal, off-duty activities, the New York Times reports.
“It wasn’t like I was getting high on the job,” Coats told the Times. “I would smoke right before I go to bed, and that little bit would help me get through my days.”
Dish Network, on the other hand, argues that marijuana is still illegal under federal law and that it had the right to fire Coats as a result of his illegal drug use.
Despite the fact that marijuana use is now legal in almost half the states, employees have had a difficult time convincing courts that the right to use pot should trump their employer’s right to run the workplace drug-free. In fact, Brandon Coats lost his intermediate appeal in a 2-1 decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Employment lawyers and other observers will be watching this case closely as an indication of how courts will attempt to balance the newly-declared legal rights of employees to use marijuana against the employer’s rights.
Finally, Florida voters will soon have the right to decide whether to expand the use of marijuana for medical purposes, as Amendment 2, known as the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative, seeks to expand the types of medical disorders, conditions, symptoms and populations that can legally treat with the drug, as well as extend discretion to health care providers to prescribe the drug for medical purposes.
If Amendment 2 passes, Florida employers will soon be facing the same challenges as their counterparts in the 23 other states that permit marijuana use, and the courts in the Sunshine State will undoubtedly be busy hearing legal challenges similar to the Colorado case.
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