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Colorado's high court: No employment protections for medical pot users

Here in Florida, we are only on the precipice of introducing medical marijuana to a rather limited degree, meaning it's highly unlikely that we will encounter any significant legal controversy relating to things like employment anytime soon.

This has been far from the reality in states like Colorado, however, where the state's highest court recently reached a significant decision in a closely watched case examining whether employers have the right to terminate an employee who tests positive for marijuana despite having a valid prescription.

What exactly did the case entail?

Back in June 2010, a quadriplegic employee of Dish Network who used medical marijuana during non-work hours as a means of treating painful muscle spasms was fired after failing a drug test.

Shortly thereafter, the employee, now 35, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, arguing that the legalization of medical marijuana by Colorado voters back in 2000 served to make the drug lawful for employment law purposes.

What did the lower courts decide?  

The trial court dismissed his lawsuit, arguing that the protections of legalizing medical marijuana extended only to immunity from criminal prosecution and did not make use of medical marijuana a lawful activity for employment law purposes.

The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the decision on different grounds, holding that the termination was lawful given the federal prohibition against marijuana.

What did the Colorado Supreme Court decide?

In a 6-0 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the appellate court.

"Nothing in the language of the [employment] statute limits the term 'lawful' to state law," reads the opinion. "Instead, the term is used in its general, unrestricted sense, indicating that a 'lawful' activity is that which complies with applicable law, including state and federal law."

What does this decision mean?

According to legal experts, the case serves as yet another loss for medical marijuana patients who pursued legal action after losing their jobs. Furthermore, they argue that even though the decision is not binding in other states, it could certainly prove influential for high courts in states with laws similar to those found in Colorado.

It will be truly fascinating to see how this issue continues to play out across the U.S. over the coming years ...

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