Colorado's highest court says workers can be fired for using marijuana off-duty even though it is legal in the state

Brandon Coats was fired for using marijuana for medical reasons

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The Independent US

The debate over the use of marijuana fired back to life on Monday after the highest court in Colorado said a company could fire an employee for using the drug – even though it is legal in the state.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a man who used marijuana for medical use and who was fired by a satellite television provider firm which disapproved of the drug, cannot have his job back.

The company, Dish Network, said it accepted that Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic, was not high on the job but said it had a zero-tolerance drug policy. Mr Coats was fired after failing a drugs test in 2010.

The Associated Press said the ruling in Colorado has major implications for employers and pot smokers across the US in places where medical or recreational marijuana have been legalised. Twenty-three states and the capital Washington allow medical marijuana.

Colorado became the first state to legalise recreational marijuana in 2012. Although the case on which the court ruled related to the use of medical marijuana, the court’s decision could also affect how companies treat employees who use the drug recreationally. Courts in three other states have also ruled against medical marijuana patients fired for pot use.

Mr Coats argued that his pot smoking was allowed under a Colorado law intended to protect employees from being fired for legal activities off the clock.

He did not use marijuana at work and was not accused of being high on the job. However marijuana’s intoxicating chemical, THC, can stay in a person’s system for weeks.

Mr Coats said after the ruling: “Although I’m very disappointed today, I hope that my case has brought the issue of use of medical marijuana and employment to light. If we’re making marijuana legal for medical purposes we need to address issues that come along with it such as employment."

In a statement, Dish Network said: “We are pleased with the outcome of the court's decision today.  As a national employer, DISH remains committed to a drug-free workplace and compliance with federal law.”

The company argued that because pot was illegal under federal law, medical marijuana is not covered by the state law.

The Colorado Constitution specifically states that employers do not have to amend their policies to accommodate employees' marijuana use.

Mr Coats was paralysed in a car crash as a teenager and has been a medical marijuana patient since 2009, when he discovered that pot helped calm violent muscle spasms.

He was a telephone operator with Dish Network for three years before he failed a the random drug test in 2010 and was fired.