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CO appeals court OKs firing for off-duty marijuana use

9:37 PM, Apr 25, 2013   |    comments
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DENVER - A split Colorado Court of Appeals decision announced Thursday should serve as a warning to the more than hundred thousand Coloradans who use marijuana.

Use it at your own peril - at least as far as your job is concerned.

The 2-1 decision upholds the firing of a Dish Network employee who was let go after he tested positive for marijuana. Brandon Coats is a quadriplegic who used medical marijuana away from work. 

"It calms down my spasms. I get huge muscle spasms," Coats said. "I'm not talking about a twitch. I'm talking about the whole body freaking out."

Coats said it's not an option for him to go without marijuana.

"I want to work, but the only way I can work is to be able to use marijuana," he said.

Coats says he even told his employer during a drug test that he was going to fail it. He was very out in the open about it, but insists it never impacted his job performance. Two weeks after the test, Dish Network let him go.

"We're not saying that if you have a hazardous occupation like driving a school bus or operating a crime that marijuana is right for you. It's not," Coats' attorney Michael Evans said. "This isn't the 19-year-old snowboarder who claims an eyelash sprain and needs to smoke marijuana."

Curtis Graves, an attorney with the Mountain States Employers Council, called the decision huge and said it should serve as a warning for any and all people who use marijuana - whether medical or not - away from work.

"For now at least it's very good news for employers," he said. "It means their employer can go forward and terminate them if they test positive for marijuana , and [now] employers will be emboldened to do so."

The decision found that since marijuana remains illegal under federal law, Colorado employees can't consider marijuana usage lawful. The lone dissenting opinion disagreed. 

Evans said plans are already in motion to appeal the case to the Colorado State Supreme Court.

To read the decision, visit: http://bit.ly/13xIhQU.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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