COLORADO: On New Year’s Day, Colorado became the first state in which it’s legal to recreationally smoke pot. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a fireable offense. Under U.S. law, private companies can fire employees for almost anything they do at home or at work. And while Colorado has bucked the trend by banning firings for “lawful” outside-work activities, that protection doesn’t extend to pot.
“I’m not going to get better any time soon,” paraplegic plaintiff Brandon Coats told reporters after his 2010 firing by Dish Network was upheld in a precedent-setting Colorado Court of Appeals case last April. “I need the marijuana, and I don’t want to go the rest of my life without holding a job.” As the Denver Post reported, Coats alleged he was illegally fired by the cable company Dish Network for using medical marijuana to mitigate muscle spasms. (Coats was fired three years before Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana use; his case rested on the state’s Medical Marijuana Amendment, which went into effect in 2009.) Dish did not respond to Salon’s Thursday morning inquiry.
“If Mr. Coats can’t win this case, then nobody can,” Coats’ attorney Michael Evans told Salon. “He’s about as bad as you can get in terms of physical disability … He was a great employee, and they admit that he was never impaired [at work] … He was following all of the laws.”
Evans’ firing and Appeals Court setback have sobering implications for customers of Colorado’s newly legal recreational marijuana industry. In November 2012, Colorado and Washington state became the first U.S. states to legalize non-medical marijuana use (Washington’s law goes into effect later this year).
Last August, the U.S. Justice Department announced that – as long as those states implemented “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems” regarding their newly legal marijuana industries – it was deferring its right to challenge the new legalization laws, and would continue not to devote federal resources to “prosecuting individuals whose conduct is limited to possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use on private property.”
Legalization advocates hailed those votes, and the feds’ choice not to crack down in response, as a potential tipping point for their cause; Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann predicted to Salon last month that “Oregon and possibly other U.S. states will vote to legalize marijuana” in 2014.