The state of Colorado has legalized the recreational use of marijuana and also allowed it to be used for medicinal purposes. But that does not mean that people whose use fits into those categories are exempt from being punished. Take the case of Brandon Coats, an employee of the Dish Network company, who in 2010 was fired for using marijuana legally outside of work hours to deal with the muscular spasms he suffered after he became paralyzed as the result of a car crash. They fired him two weeks after he informed his company of his use and gave them a copy of his medical marijuana card.
The Colorado Supreme Court upheld his firing under the company’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy because the use of marijuana for any purpose is still illegal under federal law.
Colorado, for example, has a law stating that employees can’t be fired for engaging in any “lawful” activity, and the question was whether ingesting marijuana (even for medical reasons) was “lawful,” given that Colorado state law permits it and federal law doesn’t. The court decided that federal law took precedence, which means that Dish Network was within its rights when it fired Coats for his positive drug test.
Apart from the legal aspect, I was shocked that the company would be so cruel as to use this reason to fire an employee who was a quadriplegic since there is no evidence that he could not do his job. They would have known that it would be really hard for him to get another job and that has turned out to be the case since he is still unemployed. I wonder to what extent this was an excuse to rid themselves of an employee so that they would not have to deal with the expense of providing him with accommodations to do his job and the cost of his treatment on their insurance policies.
Then we have the case of a 48-year old man Bernard Noble who was sentenced to 13 years in prison four years ago for being in possession of two joints, after having been caught in possession when he was 12 and again at 24. He had the bad luck to live in Louisiana where its awful governor Bobby Jindal refused to give clemency because, of course, he is a Republican rightwing extremist who is seeking the presidency.
While marijuana is treated so harshly, alcohol is not. In fact people often brag at work about their alcoholic excesses and companies host functions where alcohol is served even though it could be argued that the effects of the two are not that dissimilar. As Coats himself observed, “A person can drink all night long, be totally hungover the next day and go to work and there’s no problem with it.”