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The AR Group

Colorado Supreme Court to Review Conflict Between Marijuana Use and the Workplace

By Vanessa Barnett

Less than one month after Amendment 64 went into effect, lawmakers have realized that it is time to craft some definitive answers as to how legalized marijuana use will work.? Amendment 64, which legalizes marijuana use and possession of up to an ounce for persons 21 and older, is causing the Colorado courts to reexamine the conflict between state and federal drug laws.? Last year, numerous states with marijuana legislation on the table, Colorado included, tackled cases dealing with the conflict between legal off-site drug use and employer drug policies.? In each major case, the employee was found having been in violation of employer drug policies.? These victories were welcomed by employers who have zero-tolerance drug policies.? However, on January 27, 2014, the Colorado Supreme Court announced that it will review last year?s ruling in the medical marijuana case Coats v. Dish Network, LLC, making Colorado the first state willing to reconsider its previous stance on the conflict between state and federal laws concerning marijuana use.

The facts of the underlying case are as follows: Mr. Coats, a quadriplegic and licensed medical marijuana patient, was fired from his employment with Dish Network in 2010 after failing a drug test.? Mr. Coats stated that he used marijuana within the limits of his license and was never impaired or under the influence at work.? The Court found no other reasons for Mr. Coats? termination and the employer did not claim that Mr. Coats was impaired on the job.? The Court examined whether off-duty state-licensed medical marijuana use, which is still illegal under federal law, is a ?lawful activity? under Colorado?s Lawful Activities Statute. ?This purpose of this statute is to prevent an employer from terminating an employee for lawful activities that an employee participates in off-site and during nonworking hours.? In a 2 to 1 decision, the Court found that the marijuana use and in fact anything prohibited by federal law could not be considered a ?lawful activity? under the Colorado statute.

In a move that has both marijuana and employee rights advocates cheering, the Colorado Supreme Court will review the Coats decision.? While no date has yet been set for the review, this will be the first case to review whether off-duty and legal marijuana use is protected under the Colorado Lawful Activities Statute.

SMART TIP: In light of this potential change concerning marijuana use and the workplace, make sure that your employee handbooks are up to date, especially anything related to drug policies and moral conduct.? If you need help with drafting or rewriting your employee handbook, or any other employment related matters please contact us at