Our strange and conflicted attitudes towards marijuana

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.”


  1. kyoseki says

    I also find it highly amusing when politicians who constantly espouse the idea of state’s rights when it comes to god, guns & gays insist that federal law trumps the states when it comes to legalization of drugs.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    Alcohol is consumed by Homer Simpson and Archie Bunker, so it’s normal. Heck, there was a town drunk on The Andy Griffith Show who was funny and cuddly. Marijuana is consumed by hippies and rock musicians, and not by any normal characters on network TV, so it’s abnormal and scary. Ergo, alcoholics are nice normal people who just need to have a little more self-control, while a person with a single joint in their house is anti-society, anti-American, and probably just inches away from becoming a serial killer.

  3. lanir says

    I’ve done both alcohol and marijuana enough to know neither is really my thing. It was experimentation at different times around people who were into them. Thinking about the two in retrospect I can only look at marijuana and think to myself: We’re spending a ton of money, we’re wrecking people’s lives and crippling their ability to be productive in our society so there’s not even any way to fully measure how much worse off our culture is as a whole, and all for THIS?

    I don’t like smoking, tobacco smoke gives me the equivalent of a head cold. I’m not impressed with vapor widgets because my senses tell me they’re very similar to pipe smoking. I would prefer not to be in close proximity to marijuana smokers. But it seems silly to waste that much resources on a problem that isn’t a problem when the only result of it is to get conservative extremists elected to “fix” the vast “problem”.

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